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Kyle Barr

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Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’. Photo courtesy of A24

By Kyle Barr

There’s something inherently unrealistic in movies about young kids. Everyone remembers “Stand By Me,” where young but intelligent kids with hard home lives take an important step in becoming an adult, or the recent Netflix hit show “Stranger Things,” which plays more as a standing ovation to the media of the ’80s through children who use their pop culture knowledge as a weapon against evil. 

Perhaps what’s so unrealistic about them is that they’re made by adults far and away from their youth, looking back on it all with at least some form of fond nostalgia. Those movies centered around kids in the grade school age always seem to say life swings around a single turning point, where kids, who often speak much more eloquently for a person their age, at some point switch from the naiveté of childhood to the outlook of adulthood. It’s a nice thought, if unrealistic. 

Elsie Fisher in a scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

“Eighth Grade,” written and directed by Bo Burnham, remembers school like most of us do. It was an awkward age where young people are not only trying to learn how to exist as a teenager, but also start becoming an adult. Unlike your usual stock of movies centered around kids, nobody is really learning how to keep it all together, nobody talks like an adult, and everything is in transition.

Thirteen-year-old Kayla Day (played with such exactitude by Elsie Fisher) is just about to finish up her last week of eighth grade, which means soon she will enter the strange and complicated world of high school. Kayla is shy and quiet, but she doesn’t want to be. The teenager makes YouTube videos giving advice in often uncertain terms on how to be brave and outgoing while she herself was voted “the most quiet” of her grade.

Kayla spends time scrolling through social media liking or commenting on other people’s Instagram posts. When she makes YouTube videos, she rarely gets any views. At the dinner table she stares down at her phone, mindlessly shuffling through social media despite her dad, Mark Day (sincerely played by Josh Hamilton), attempting to interact with her. At school, she is just one of hundreds of students with their nose in their phones as she stares longingly at her crush Aiden (Luke Prael.) One day, after being invited to the popular Kennedy’s (Catherine Oliviere) birthday party, Kayla tries to transform herself into the girl she portrays on her YouTube videos, often with results that are both sincere, cringe-worthy and glorious all at once.

A scene from ‘Eighth Grade’

What makes the film so compelling and so realistic is the way it portrays Kayla. There is no “Mean Girls” level of commentary. Nobody is looking down on her; instead the audience looks straight at her. She talks like many young girls do, with constant breaks for “umms,” and “likes.” As she stares out the door to Kennedy’s party, the audience is bombarded with kids being kids, of them turning their eyelids inside out, of a girl walking backward on a bridge, all the while the music plays something like out of a dark carnival. Scenes like that strike a very real cord with anybody who grew up around the time of burgeoning social media. Nothing really feels real.

Burnham’s comedy always includes a musical element, and that sense of musical timing is used to full effect in his breakout movie. Every time Kayla sees Aiden, the ambient sound is drowned out by a heavy bass. The musical choices, often listened to by Kayla diegetically through her omnipresent earbuds, are very appropriate for each scene.

Burnham’s final stand-up comedy special “Make Happy” slowly became a commentary about comedy itself. The now-former comedian asked questions of the point of comedy, whether it’s right to make people laugh to forget their problems, even if he himself might not be happy. He baited the audience, often making them laugh before directly insulting them. Really, the show was an expression of how Burnham did not see the performance as “real.” It was his criticism of the entire entertainment industry that goes for glitz and easily digestible media rather than substance. 

“Eighth Grade” is Burnham’s answer to those criticisms. I’m glad to say it is a pretty good response, and it will be exciting to see just where all those involved will take their careers in the future. 

Rated R for language and some sexual material, “Eighth Grade” is now playing in local theaters.

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Hauppauge firefighter Larry Kunzig, left of center, and his wife, Grace, right, recount when a pregnant woman collapsed in front of their home Aug. 6. Photo by Kyle Barr

When 45-year veteran firefighter Larry Kunzig, 64, heard his wife, Grace, tell him a pregnant woman had collapsed in front of their Hauppauge house, he didn’t hesitate for a second — not even to grab his shoes. 

“I just ran out of the front door,” Kunzig said. “You don’t even think, you just do.”

Kunzig darted across his front yard at approximately 6:50 p.m. Aug. 6 while still in his socks. He assessed the 47-year-old woman, and upon seeing she was unconscious and not breathing, the firefighter immediately began performing CPR. 

The woman had pulled up with her husband in front of the house in an SUV, according to Assistant Chief Brett Martinez of Hauppauge Fire Department. Her husband was starting to panic when she fell unconsciousness. The woman’s lips were blue and foam was coming from her mouth, according to the accounts of first responders. 

The seven-month pregnant woman was transported by a Stony Brook medic to Stony Brook University Hospital where she underwent an emergency C-section. The name of the mother or baby has not been released; however, officials from the fire department said both are doing well.

“She had a very shallow heartbeat,” Kunzig said. “You just keep doing the CPR. When you see she’s pregnant you want to be careful — you can’t go too low because you don’t want to hurt [the baby.]

Two young volunteers of the Hauppauge Fire Department Andrew Mendola, 18, and Jonathan Munro, 18, just happened to be driving nearby. They heard of the situation through their radio, and saw what was happening in front of their fellow firefighter’s house, they jumped out of the car and took positions on either side of the woman and started helping with CPR. 

“It was shocking to see,” Munro said. It was his first time performing CPR in a real-life emergency. “We just helped in any way we could.”

Mendola said he asked Kunzig if he needed to swap out, but the man was laser focused.

“We asked if he needed help and he said ‘I got this, I got this,” Mendola said. “His adrenaline was going, he was not stopping.”

All together the group kept up CPR for about five minutes before more emergency responders arrived from Nesconset and Hauppauge fire departments. Officials said that the first responder’s actions saved the woman’s life.

Kunzig’s wife said she had stayed up all night praying for the family. 

“I know emotionally what she’s going through,” said Grace Kunzig, 60, a teacher’s aide at Hauppauge School District.

The event hit close to home for the Kunzigs, because Jan. 1 Grace had suddenly collapsed unconscious and was no longer breathing. Emergency medical technicians from the Hauppauge Fire Department, including Mendola, came to help and managed to resuscitate her with an defibrillator. Kunzig remembers how difficult it was for him not knowing if his wife would pull through. 

“It’s hard to work on someone you love,” he said. “It just changes your whole perspective.”

Now the couple said they see what happened Monday as a way of paying it forward in gratitude for all the personnel who helped them in their greatest time of need.

“I was so grateful when they stopped my own cardiac arrest — I can’t thank the men and women enough for helping me,” Grace Kunzig said. 

Stony Brook University hosts opioid forum featuring health care community

Medical professionals participate in an opioid ethics symposium at Stony Brook University Aug. 3. Photo by Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis has reached its tendrils out to touch every person in the U.S., and the doctors who prescribe those opioids for pain relief see the ethical dilemma; whether they should treat their patients’ pain or not out of concerns of misuse.

At an opioid ethics symposium hosted at Stony Brook University Aug. 3, Dr. Kevin Zacharoff, an expert in pain medicine and a sitting member of the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said a number of doctors no longer prescribe opioids for pain management because of how quickly the repercussions of misuse will come down on them. 

“All the regulatory agencies are coming down and tightening the screws of people in primary care, and people in primary care are saying ‘I wash my hands of it,’” Zacharoff said. “This is all falling on the shoulders of health care providers — when people dying from heroin and fentanyl has overtaken pain medication.”

Dr. Kevin Zacharoff delivered the keynote speech and discussed the effects of regulatory agencies on addiction. Photo by Kyle Barr

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that nationally 116 people a day died from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2016 said that the rate of death from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent and a 200 percent increase in the rate of opioid overdose deaths from 2000 to 2014. 

CDC data shows that regulations on prescription opioids restrained the rise of overdose deaths involving legal drugs, but since 2011 there has been a spike in the number of deaths caused by illicit drugs such as heroin and other painkillers including fentanyl. Zacharoff said he fears that these regulations on opioid prescribing pushes stable patients who could have been using opioids to treat long-term pain into using illicit drugs.

“Prescription drug monitoring programs have made a positive impact, but they have also had a negative impact on health care providers, because it takes a lot of time and energy,” Zacharoff said. “Should we sacrifice our care for patients for the sake of people using the substances illicitly?”

For the past several years federal agencies, as well as state governments, have started to restrict the number of opioids available for pharmacies as well as scrutinizing how doctors prescribe that medication. A large number of federal agencies, such as the CDC, the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, just to name a few, are involved in opioid research and regulations. This is on top of state prescription drug monitoring programs, which make doctors fill out forms on patients, saying whether they informed them of the dangers of the drugs and whether they asked if there was a person in the house with a history of addiction.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DEA would propose setting more limits on the numbers of opioids that a drug manufacturer could produce. Prescribing doctors said they have seen multiple problems with a shortage of opioids due to these limits on manufacturing and distribution.

“We are seeing an inability to get our prescriptions filled on Long Island,” said Laureen Diot, a nurse practitioner from East Patchogue.

Though that is not to say there have not been bad actors. In May, Merrick doctor Michael Belfiore was convicted of prescribing hundreds of opioids for profit and for causing the deaths of two men via overdoses. He wrote 5,000 prescriptions for 600,000 pain pills between January 2010 and March 2013, but Belfiore is asking a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying it was the pharmaceutical companies who promoted the drugs while downplaying their risks.

The issue, Zacharoff said, stems from doctors’ lack of education when it comes to pain medicine. A 2011 study in the National Academies Press showed that out of 117 U.S and Canadian medical schools only four U.S schools offer a required course on pain.

“That’s despite the fact that pain is the most common reason people seek medical attention,” Zacharoff said. “Doctors will often say to me, ‘I have to think about hypertension, diabetes, heart disease,’ but pain is more prevalent than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined.” 

Suffolk County officials are hoping to see a decline in the number of opioid-related deaths this year. In a report presented at the May 31 Suffolk County Legislature’s health committee meeting Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said that if numbers stay low, approximately 260 opioid-related deaths are expected this year — a near 100-person decrease compared to 2017. However, the county will not know the total opioid-related deaths until the year’s end.

There are options for nonopioid pain relief, such as rehabilitative and psychological therapies. Doctors at the symposium said they expect as opioid prescribing ebbs, then other practices or drugs will become more prevalent. While some medical professionals said medical marijuana might one day work as effective pain relief, it not being legal in New York and without the necessary number of tests, the drug is not viable at this moment.

“It’s too early to write the book on marijuana for chronic pain,” said Marco Palmieri, the director of the Center for Pain Management at Stony Brook University. “Some physicians have gotten around this by opting not to test for marijuana [when doing prescriptions]. Whether that’s right, I don’t know. There certainly needs to be more data available.”

Dan Graziosi

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported in 2017 there were more than 550,000 homeless in the country. Three alumni from Ward Melville and Commack high schools have asked a simple question: How many are stuck that way simply because nobody can see their résumés?

“You never really know why someone became homeless,” said Dan Graziosi, 22, a Ward Melville graduate. He is chief executive officer of Lazarus Rising, a nonprofit created in 2015 that helps homeless people write their résumés and get ready for job interviews. 

“A lot of the people don’t necessarily see the skills that they themselves have, and sometimes showing this person that they have value is almost more important than making a résumé for them,” Graziosi said.

Matthew Sobel

Co-founders of Lazarus Rising, Ward Melville alum Matthew Sobel, 23, and Commack alum Matthew Rojas, 23, gave birth to the organization wondering, as sophomores at the University of Delaware, that if creating a résumé for them was difficult — two people who considered themselves privileged — then how tough would it be for a person without access to resources such as a computer?

“There’s a really unfortunate number of people who are experiencing homelessness,” Rojas said. “While some are unfortunately addicts, a lot of them don’t have basic things like a printer, Microsoft Word or they just haven’t had an interview in a long time.”

As they first walked into a Delaware homeless shelter in 2014, just a block away from their freshman dorm, the two did not have much in the way of community service experience. Yet at the shelter they met a man named Jeff, that while he had fallen on hard times since the 2008 recession, he also had years of experience managing more than 20 people at a warehouse. The only problem was his résumé was five pages of a single-spaced biography rather than the commonly accepted single page bulleting a person’s most applicable skills.

“It kind of took our breath away knowing that an employer is throwing that right out the window,” Sobel said. “It’s not Jeff’s fault — he just didn’t know what standards there are in résumés.”

In 2015 Sobel, Rojas, Graziosi, along with several other friends and compatriots, incorporated their talents into the non-profit Lazarus Rising, all while they were still undergrads. 

Matthew Rojas

“There is a subset of the homeless population that have the skills to be an amazing employee, but they simply lack the skills that we take for granted like being able to write a résumé,” Sobel said. “We all realized we came from super-fortunate situations, being from where we came from and what schools we came from. I came into college with minimal community service. It’s one of those experiences you really can’t understand until you do it.”

Lazarus Rising has grown to host more than 200 volunteers offering their services either in school or during their free time. They have college chapters at Binghamton University, University of Delaware, University of Maryland and the University of Pittsburgh and professional chapters in New York City and Philadelphia. Graziosi estimates that the organization has aided more than 300 homeless participants.

Volunteers for Lazarus Rising often spend approximately one hour with a homeless person working on his or her résumé. They then spend more time after completing mock interviews or even help the person navigate applying for jobs online.

Rojas said that it is one of the greatest satisfactions of his life having helped these people get back on their feet. “It’s a feeling that what I’m doing actually makes a difference,” he said.

Meanwhile the group hopes to expand its reach in New York state and eventually Long Island, most likely through local colleges like Stony Brook University.

All three alumni are out of college and have either found jobs or starting ones, but that has not stopped any of them from being active in the organization. While Graziosi will soon be taking on a job as a technology consultant for Ernst & Young, a professional services organization, he still plans to run as the nonprofit’s CEO into the foreseeable future.

Graziosi’s mother Sheila, a Setauket resident, said what her son and his friends have been able to accomplish has not only changed their lives, but the lives of many homeless.

“He’s amazing — I’m just so proud of him,” Graziosi’s mother said of her son. “He’s really getting so much out of it.” 

Lazarus Rising is looking for more volunteers. For more information about volunteer opportunities or to donate to Lazarus Rising, visit lazarusrising.org.

Gary Wladyka, front, and Tony Kuczewski bike through the Rocky Point Mountain Bike Trail.

With the ever-expanded development along the North Shore of Long Island, it’s easy to underestimate just how many wooded trails and biking paths there are available for those who want to enjoy leisurely outdoor activities off congested roadways.

Trails to check out

Paved paths:

• Nissequogue River Trail 5.1 miles

Nissequogue River State Park, Kings Park

• Kings Park Hike & Bike Trail 1.5 miles

Nissequogue River State Park through Old Dock Road, Kings Park

• The Greenway Trail 3.4 miles

Setauket through Port Jefferson Station

Off-road paths:

• Edgewood Oak Brush Plains
Preserve 5.5 miles

Commack Road, Deer Park

Beginner through intermediate

• Calverton Pine Barrens State Forest Loop 7.6 miles

Calverton Pine Barrens State Forest

Beginner through intermediate

• Caumsett Mountain Bike Trail
5.5 miles

Caumsett State Park, Lloyd Harbor

Beginner through intermediate

• Sunken Meadow Trail 3.7 miles

Sunken Meadow State Park, Kings Park

Beginner through intermediate

• Rocky Point Mountain Bike Trail
15.2 miles

Rocky Point State Pine Barrens Preserve

Beginner through expert

• Cathedral Pines Trail 5.7 Miles

Cathedral Pines County Park,
Middle Island

Intermediate

• Meadowland Park Trail 6.0 Miles

Meadowland Park, East Northport

Intermediate

• Glacier Ridge Bike Trail 10.2 Miles

Glacier Ridge Preserve, Farmingville

Beginner through Intermediate

• Overton Trail 3.9 Miles

Overton Preserve, Coram

Intermediate through Expert

• East Setauket Trail 10.5 Miles

Laurel Ridge Setauket Woods Nature
Preserve, East Setauket

Intermediate through Expert

“We have so many trails on Long Island — more than 175 miles of them,” said Michael Vitti, the president of the Concerned Long Island Mountain Bicyclists, an organization dedicated to the growth of the activity it’s named for.

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) finally signing the long-awaited bill allocating funds for the Port Jefferson Station to Wading River Rails to Trails project, which will create a 10 mile walking and biking trails along the rights-of-way parallel to the North Shore and north of Route 25A, this might be an opportune time for people to finally put foot to pedal.

Neal Passoff, president of Campus Bicycle in Stony Brook said a prospective biker looking to pick up the hobby should start off riding on paved paths such as the Setauket to Port Jefferson Station Greenway Trail, rather than bumpy terrain.

“There’s still some challenging hills on [the Greenway Trail] but it’s great for people or families starting out that don’t want to worry about traffic,” Passoff said.

Of course, tackling a trail is a tall task without the right kind of bike. While some bikes are able to handle both roads and off-road, bike shop owners said it’s best to buy a bike specific to the style of riding a rider intends on doing. The difference, from the speeds to the shocks to the general design, will dictate how well the bike will perform on the different surfaces.

“People should think of what they plan on doing, not necessarily what they’re doing today, but what they plan on using the bike for,” Passoff said.

Bike shop owners stressed the need for a bike that feels good and fits to a rider’s body rather than forcing a fit. “Get a bike that fits, forget about specific bargains, have one that’s fitted to you,” said Richard Partenfelder, owner of The Cycle Company in Smithtown. 

After people get experienced and look to take their bikes off-road they should certainly look for beginner loops in local parks. “Every park has different terrain, and the more difficult trails are located north of the Long Island Expressway, and any trails that are south of the expressway are easier.” Vitti said. “The expressway runs along the glacial moraine, and that makes the north side more hilly.” 

Gary Wladyka, the owner of Rocky Point Cycle, said the hardest parts of most trails are how sharp the turns are and the steepness of the trail’s incline.

“For the most part the more difficult trails have more hills that are, to an inexperienced cyclist, something they end up walking up instead of riding up it,” Wladyka said.

He suggested starting on the easy parts of the Rocky Point Mountain Bike and Sunken Meadow trails because they have low inclines without any exceptionally sharp turns. 

“Try to keep to the beginner loops because they are relatively flat,” Wladyka said. “They don’t switchback turns, instead they have wider, ‘flowier’ turns.”

In terms of expert trails, both Wladyka and Passoff agreed that some of the hardest to tackle are the East Setauket Trail in Laurel Ridge Nature Preserve and the Overton Trail in the Overton Preserve located in Coram. Those trails have steep hills and sharp switchback turns that can really do a number on a novice biker if they’re not paying attention, they said.

If going into the woods, Vitti suggested people should wear high socks and spray their shoes with permethrin, a tick repellent for clothing.

Some trails are mountain bike only, and some are multiuse trails. Vitti said that while riding on these multiuse paths riders should learn proper etiquette for riding around hikers or other bikers, such as announcing your approach and pulling over to the side so others can pass if they are going in the opposite direction.

For more information about trails and riding etiquette, visit CLIMB’s website at www.climbonline.org.

Visitor’s entrance to the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Every dog has its day, and Town of Smithtown could be handing a juicy opportunity to any private organization looking to run its animal shelter.

Town officials are looking to potentially turn partial control of the Town of Smithtown Animal Shelter and Adoption Center over to a private company. One caveat, though, is board members warn they will only go through with the plan if it doesn’t cost more than the town already spends.

“In my opinion, if this were to go through, the organization would have to be animal experts or organizations that are expert in the care of animals,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “And it has to be financially feasible. If the RFP comes back and it would be in excess of what we pay now we wouldn’t support it.”

The town board voted 4-1 July 17 to put out a request for proposal for any private organization that is interested in assuming day-to-day operations of the shelter. 

“We’ve been discussing this for more than 18 months as a board,” Wehrheim said. “Prior to choosing the director, if that happens and we keep it, the board has had conversations for professional animal
organizations who would agree to come in and operate the animal shelter in a public-private partnership. This is strictly exploratory.”

The supervisor said that some groups have already shown interest. Under the proposed plan, current animal control officers employed by the town would remain in place. The town would continue to assume the maintenance of the property and building, as well as handling any animal control or capture programs. The incoming private organization would handle the day-to-day operations, including feeding, cleaning and fostering the cats and dogs. 

The shelter has not had a director since Sue Hansen was suspended by the town from the position in February 2017 after allegations surfaced of incompetence and mismanagement. Hansen has a pending lawsuit against the town for being arrested on allegations of criminal trespassing on the town property after her suspension. She had taken over the reins from George Beatty, who resigned in 2015, after a
scandal surfaced with claims of animal neglect and abuse. 

Supervision of the shelter has since fallen to the town’s Department of Public Safety headed by Director John Valentine. Councilwoman Lisa Inzerillo (R) said those public safety officers in the shelter would move back to the department office should this plan go into effect.

Wehrheim said they were looking for nonprofits already involved in animal care, but he did not rule out any for-profit organizations coming in.

Inzerillo, the liaison to the shelter, voted against the RFP, though she said she didn’t necessarily disagree with the concept. Instead, the councilwoman said she wished the town would have waited until after they finished upgrades to the shelter such as the construction of the new independent Trap, Neuter and Release building.

Smithtown has attained a $168,000 grant to build a new TNR building on the existing property. The town will pull matching funds equal to 25 percent of the grant, or approximately $56,250, from the town’s capital budget to complete the project, and it expects to begin building in early 2019. 

“I would have preferred to have some more time to make an informed decision … or to potentially discuss the idea with experts first or in a work session with the board,” Inzerillo said. “I have the utmost faith in my fellow board members that they would not commit to anything concrete that would put these projects in jeopardy.”

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Legislator Sarah Anker played a key role in securing funding for Rails to Trails, a wooded path for bikers and hikers from Port Jefferson to Wading River. File photo by Erika Kara

Though some Suffolk County lawmakers are champing at the bit to see certain local renovations and projects get underway, finding funding has been a tall task with partisan gridlock in the Legislature.

Several items passed during the July 17 legislative session, including funding for Rails to Trails, a two-lane wooded trail that will run from Port Jefferson to Wading River; and repaving and roadwork on a portion of Commack Road from Julia Circle to Route 25A and along Crooked Hill Road from Henry Street to Commack Road. The road borders the towns of Smithtown and Huntington.

The county allocated $1.5 million for the Commack Road repaving, while another $6 million will come from federal aid. Legislator Susan Berland (D-Huntington) said that if the vote did not pass they would have lost access to those matching federal funds.

“Some of it wasn’t done correctly in my opinion, it does need to be widened, it needs to be repaved,” Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said. “Some parts of that road have had potholes there for years.”

Commack Road has been a point of contention between the towns of Smithtown and Huntington and Suffolk County for close to eight years, according to Town of Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D). The dispute comes down to which side is responsible for cleaning and repairing the roads.

“We are looking to do everything to protect our taxpayers to make sure we get the appropriate county resources and the road gets paved,” Cuthbertson said.

Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) has been promoting the Rails to Trails project for years. Funding the project through bonds came up for vote July 17 and it passed nearly unanimously with Kennedy abstaining.

“This is a long time coming, and in the seven years I’ve been in office I have not stopped facilitating this project,” Anker said.

The plan is to establish the trail from Port Jefferson to Wading River along rights-of-way and old train tracks able to facilitate both bikers and joggers. During the public speaking portion of the July 17 meeting, the room was filled with supporters for the trail.

“Long Island is filled with too many cars on clogged roads,” said Constance Iervolino, a board member of the Rocky Point Civic Association. “This would be a remarkable way to reduce that public safety threat.”

However, some residents still have large reservations about the project.

“The idea is good, the placement is bad,” Rocky Point resident Mary Anne Gladysz said at the meeting. “I have had many concerns that have not been dealt with. The depth of the asphalt is one of them — only three inches. The only answer I’ve gotten as to why that thin was because they wouldn’t be able to do the whole path.”

Of the $8.82 million for the Rails to Trails project, 94 percent of the project will be funded by federal grants that will be paid back to the county after the project is completed. Half a million dollars of that bond were matching funds from just one of several federal grants, which had a looming August expiration deadline.

Other projects that were re-voted on included $150,000 to finance the planning costs for a new police K-9 unit headquarters and kennel, which was voted down.

Another vote for $2 million in funding for licensing the Rave Panic Button mobile app, a police and rescue emergency application for school and government employees was passed near unanimously with Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) giving the one dissenting vote.

Both the Commack Road repaving and Rails to Trails were voted down at the June 5 legislative meeting as the seven members of the Republican minority in the Legislature voted “no,” citing the projects’ inclusion in a series of lumped bonds. 

County Executive Steve Bellone (D) brought forward a proposal at the June 5 and 19 legislative meetings that included several bundled together bond requests for a wide array of projects to be voted on as a single package, but the seven Republicans in the Legislature did not want to feel forced to vote on items they might disagree with in the future, they said.

By Kyle Barr

It is a real testament to the late, great Freddie Mercury and the band Queen that their songs sit so squarely in the public zeitgeist. “We Are the Champions” is still the go-to sports song for anybody’s home team, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that one song that, when played 50 times on a road trip, still never gets old.

It also means that the show “We Will Rock You,” which held its Northeastern regional premiere opening at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts on July 7, really needed to encapsulate just what Mercury and Queen meant to culture just before the turn of the century. Thankfully, the talented 18-member cast at SPAC managed to pull it off with ease.

With book by Ben Elton, the story takes place 300 years in the future in a vague dystopian world where all music but that which is produced by the corporation is banned. All those living on the iPlanet, as it is called, exist under the thumb of the Globalsoft Corporation, headed by the stiff-necked Khashoggi (Dylan Bivings) and the raucous Killer Queen (the-great-as-always Brianne Boyd). Two young rebels, Galileo (Andrew Murano) and Scaramouche (Danielle Nigro) are captured by Globalsoft right out of high school for being too out of the mainstream. This leads them on a quest to find the rebels called The Bohemians and then to find the true meaning of rock and roll and set the world free.

Featuring more than 20 hit Queen songs, the show is accompanied by a live band, with Melissa and Craig Coyle on keyboard, Chad Goodstein and Mike Lawshé on guitar, Rob Curry on bass and Jim Waddell on drums. At first it’s hard to tell from where the band is playing. They are not on stage, nor on the balcony. It is well worth staying until the end to see exactly where these band members were cleverly hid.

Tim Golebiewski, who directed last year’s very fine production of “Young Frankenstein,” returns this year to showcase his talents for stimulating musical sequences and cutting humor. This time the stage is set with what appears to be a very simple layout, just a two-level affair with a white screen hanging above it all. Yet this display holds more than a few surprises. 

Golebiewski and Chris Creevy, the head of lighting design, must have had a lot of fun setting up the LED lights all around the stage, whose multiple colors coordinate with a projector screen behind the stage. Every musical performance has a corresponding color and video that plays in time to the music. It’s a surprising sensation seeing the performance and video, like attending both a musical and rock concert all at once.

Danielle Nigro and Andrew Murano in a scene from the show

In a production such as this, where the story is not much more than a vehicle to get to the next Queen song, the vocal quality is probably the biggest selling point and the cast is very much up to the task. 

Nigro does a great job with the punk-styled, quick-mouthed Scaramouche, and she is great both in lead vocals in songs like “Somebody to Love” and in chorus in songs like “Under Pressure.” Mark Maurice, as Brit, and Courtney Braun, as Oz, are both absolutely hilarious, especially with Maurice’s random bouts of martial arts. Their duet on “I Want It All” is fun and energetic. Terrific in last year’s SPAC performance of “Man of La Mancha,” Boyd  pulls out all the stops with her usual considerable stage presence. She’s a perfect fit for the part of Killer Queen, especially with such loud and sometimes racy renditions of “Play the Game” and “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

If you have even a passing interest in Queen, Freddie Mercury or rock in general, then this is a great night outing to rekindle that old rebel rocker spirit.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 East Main St., Smithtown will present “We Will Rock You” through Aug. 19. Parental discretion is advised. Tickets range from $25 to $38. For more information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.

Photos courtesy of SPAC

From left, Cindy and Maddie Miller in their newly opened shop. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Though opening a store takes an adult mind for business, a child’s sense of creativity doesn’t hurt.

Mother-and-daughter team Cindy and Maddie Miller, who is 11 years old, cut the ribbon on Macked Boutique, a new women’s and girls’ clothing shop in downtown Rocky Point June 9.

Customers line up at the register to check out.

“It’s amazing now to have it open and see all the people in it,” Cindy Miller said. “It’s awesome to see what we had in our heads come to life.”

The front of the store is dedicated to women’s and girls’ clothes from 1-year-old to women’s plus sizes. The rear of the store is dedicated to their design space that includes stencils and paints for kids to create custom shirt designs for parties, using whatever stencil and color paint they want.

For Christmas last year Miller received a Cricut — a fabric, wood and stencil cutter — from her husband, Mike Miller. After making stencils for custom designs, the mother and daughter thought about making a business out of it, first by hosting parties so kids could customize their own shirts, then later for an overall online store for young girls clothing. It wasn’t long before Miller had the idea for a brick-and-mortar location, and with the new boutique, the Miller family hopes to establish themselves as a focal point for girls’ and women’s clothing in Rocky Point.

Maddie helps other kids design their shirt.

Maddie came up with the idea for using glitter when painting the shirts, something that Miller said has become a big hit.

“We went through a lot of learning experiences,” the mother said. “There was the time when we first put paint on the shirt and it got paint on the table because the paint went through the shirt.”

Miller’s husband, a Nassau County police officer, helped work on putting in the boutique’s new floor before the store opened. He said while his wife is stressed from all that goes into opening a new business, she is excited to see where it takes her.

“She’s amazed,” Miller’s husband said. “I think it’s a new adventure, and it’s going to be very exciting.”

Maddie helps the other kids when it comes to painting shirts, and she is already experienced in customer care. When one customer asked her mother where she could find the clothing sizes on a selection of shirts, Maddie stood on her tiptoes, reached up to the shirt in question and showed her each of the shirt’s sizes.

“It’s cute because she’s learning a lot of about business,” Miller said. “It’s teaching her the difference between price and cost, what’s the margin, how do you price things, how do you tag things and other different applications.”

Paints and glitter available to those designing their own T-shirts at Macked Boutique in Rocky Point.

Maddie has started to learn the fundamentals of operating a business from her mother.

“You have to multiply [cost] by 2.5 to get the price, and the difference between what you are charged and what you sell it for,” Maddie said. 

Though even beyond the business aspect, Maddie said the experience of first helping the online shop and now opening a store has been fun, and that she looks forward to helping out with the business.

“I like the clothes that I get to wear, and I like helping the other kids with painting,” Maddie said. “I love it – I love the boutique.”

Photos by Kyle Barr

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

Every Fourth of July, if only for a few hours, Long Islanders create their own stars in the night sky.

If one drives down the side streets and residential neighborhoods late at night on America’s birthday, one can hear a chorus of whistles and pops from every direction. People in local neighborhoods sit in lawn chairs with their necks craned to the night sky to watch the lights flash high over their own roofs. All those involved know that, without a license, it’s illegal to own, sell and, especially, to light any fireworks in New York state, but this is Independence Day, and the date demands ceremony.

On one street in Port Jefferson Station, where locals hosted their own fireworks show, the air was suffused with a burning smoke that smelled like brimstone and burning paper. Fireworks enthusiast Louie, who agreed to comment if his last name would be withheld, along with his brother and their friends, laid out rows of mortars stretching more than 10 yards down the street. For close to two hours nonstop the fireworks illuminated the sky and onlookers cheered.

“Jones Beach does it, Bald Hill does it … why can’t we do it?” Louie said.

Louie said he has helped set off his block’s firework display for four years, and each July Fourth his group sets off more than $2,000 worth of fireworks.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) warned residents ahead of the holiday in a YouTube video that the county would be enacting a zero-tolerance policy for the possession, use and sale of illegal fireworks.

“We are here today to talk about the Fourth of July and how we all love to get together and celebrate,” Bellone said in the video. “We always hear about these incidents happening and they are unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

Residents prepare July Fourth at-home firework shows in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Kyle Barr

Officials asked Suffolk residents to attend licensed firework shows going on all across the Island, rather than creating their own events. There were shows at Bald Hill, in Wading River, at Peconic Riverfront in Riverhead, on East Beach in Port Jefferson, on Shelter Island and at the Long Island Ducks stadium in Bethpage, to name a few.

Suffolk County is stricter on fireworks than other parts of the state. While New York passed a law in January that made owning sparklers legal, in Suffolk owning a sparkler remains a misdemeanor. Owning certain fireworks, like the M-80s, which were originally designed by the United States military to simulate gunfire, or the mortar-type of fireworks, is a Class E felony subject to up to four years in prison.

Several individuals were arrested this year and charged with crimes of possessing and selling fireworks. In June, a Medford man was arrested for having $100,000 worth of fireworks in a storage facility. Later that same month, an Oakdale man was arrested for bringing $2,000 worth of fireworks home from Pennsylvania and selling them online.

“We take it very seriously,” 4th Precinct Capt. Kevin Williams said at the June 1 Smithtown Town board meeting. “All fireworks are illegal, and that includes sparklers. Some of the larger fireworks that we see today, the M-80 fireworks or the mortars that people shoot up, those are designated as explosives under New York State Labor Law.”

The danger presented by misusing fireworks is real. Nationally, fireworks were identified in 12,900 hospital visits and eight deaths in 2017, according to a report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission released in June this year.

Suffolk police reported that a man from Gordon Heights lost three of his fingers
after a firework exploded in his hand this year. Another woman, a Florida resident who was visiting her family in Mastic, was injured after she tossed a lit cigarette in an ashtray which caused a firework that had been placed there to explode. The detonation severed the tip of one finger and injured other fingers on her right hand. Both were sent to Stony Brook University Hospital for their injuries.

Dr. Steven Sandoval, medical director of Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighters Burn Center at Stony Brook University Hospital, said the last weeks of June and the first two weeks of July are the peak in terms of burn center patients. On average his unit receives five to 10 patients every Fourth of July season, and that’s not including those who arrive to the hospital with other, non-burn related injuries. By July 5 this year, the burn center received four patients who had injuries related to fireworks, but Sandoval said they would not know the total number of injuries until a month has passed.

“Every other year there’s a fatal or near-fatal event that occurs from fireworks,” Sandoval said. “This is a vulnerable population, who might already be intoxicated, inebriated or have been standing out in the sun all day … people should leave fireworks to the professionals.”

Those people setting off the pyrotechnic display in Port Jeff Station said they understood the hazard that fireworks presented.

“We’re all organized, not drunk, professional and we have order,” Louie said. “We have communication, and communication is key.”

Still, there is always danger when it comes to explosives. The street in Port Jeff Station was bordered by power lines and trees that an off-course rocket could potentially strike. One neighbor put large towels and cardboard boxes on her fence to mitigate any potential burn damage. After the grand finale, where the group let off their last rockets and mortars, they started to throw loud firecrackers into the street. One of them bounced into a neighbor’s yard right next to a fence. The firework exploded and dug a small hole an inch deep into the dirt.

Despite it all, the neighbors laughed and cheered anyway.

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