The gateway to America’s majestic New York Harbor is most cordially re-guarded by its guardians Peter and Niki Spanakos.
I was introduced to Peter at Brooklyn’s glorious Borough Hall just a few years back on good ol’ Christopher Columbus’ birthday during an annual celebration held our by good friend, Borough President Markowitz, who, by the way, is one of the greatest partiers of modern times.
Frank Giordano, my friendly pharmacist, had an invite to the dinner and celebration, along with his wife, who was not able to make it. So dear Frank invited me to join him instead.
After the celebration in honor of “old Chris” whom, history tells us, discovered our America, we adjourned for wine before our “Beep” served dinner. We mulled over hors d’oeuvres, sipping the grapes, when Frank introduced me to a muscular mite, another pal of popular pharmacist Giordano.
“Peter,” he said to Spanakos, “I’d like you to meet my friend Lou Powsner.”
Thinking quickly on his feet, like the great boxer Peter once was, he blurted, “Coney Island’s surrounded by water, the Sea of Neglect, and the Bay of Decay…”
“What did you say?” I asked, having him repeat it. Then it hit me.
“I wrote that many years ago,” I told him. “How could you remember a phrase from one of my foregone columns, one that was, in fact, read on the air, by WOR’s, Barry Farber?”
Peter proudly proclaimed, “I lived right there, and we watch the tides go by, mixing the hungry waters of the ocean with the pollutants of the creek. We remember, because we’d seen it every eight hours as the water changed directions.”
Peter, now retired, quickly became a good friend, and in the ensuing years, has invited us to his and his wife Niki’s home at the Norton’s Point at the tip of Sea Gate, and the breathtaking mouth of New York Harbor.
Every Fourth of July, it is surrounded by the flaring splendors of fireworks floating above the mighty Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and the blue-green waters of our vast harbor.
Among the many guests of Peter, Nikki and their children are renowned friends of theirs from the boxing world — one whom we all missed this year, and is the quite-ill: very well-known Emile Griffith, a powerful welterweight champion of the recent past.
Peter and his twin brother were great students at Fort Hamilton HS, (both are in the school’s Hall of Fame), then reached similar heights at the University of Idaho, following the same path as their always dutiful parents.
Their mother Stella was honored in 1962, by Gov. Rockefeller as Mother of the Year. In 1964, she was honored at the Plaza Hotel by Sen. Kenneth Keating, as the “Greek-American Mother of the Year”.
Peter and his brothers and families all agree that both hard-working parents set up a pride and a work ethic that each of them performed so dutifully, prolonging that desire for attainment into other athletic as wee as educational honors that spread heretically with pride in their total Americanization, always with the prides in their attainments, and new destinations, hopefully, always ahead.
There is always an innate family pride bestowed in each Spanakos, and passed down with a pride that has attained an Americanization, not as bestowed in enough families.
Perhaps it is because they say, “The Greeks had a word for it”. And this family has produced that proof in their lives.
And someday I’ll recall for you, my involvement with that column I wrote years back, “Coney Island surrounded by water — the Sea of Neglect and the Bay of Decay” — and what it lead to — still unfinished after so many political barriers. To this day, it is, both literally and figuratively, a quagmire.
This is Lou Powsner.