Although both Queens and Kings County are physically located on Long Island, the urban landscapes bear little resemblance their suburban siblings, Nassau and Suffolk. Together, these counties span the length of the largest island in the contiguous United States, a 118 mile protrusion beginning in New York Harbor and stretching out across the Atlantic just south of Connecticut. 18,000 years ago, as the continental ice sheet proceeded steadily south from Wisconsin, pulverising and dislodging stone and sediment, Long Island became a kind of geological dump—the terminal moraine marking the end of glacial advancement at the recession of the last Ice Age. Over the course of 10,000 years, tidal activity moulded the glacial detritus and seawater flooded the northern basin, thereby forming the massive estuary known today as Long Island Sound. In geological terms at least, Massapequa is more or less identical to New Haven, but I wouldn’t have been able to guess as much as I stepped off the train at the side of Sunrise Highway.
That quaint feature of smalltown America, the welcome sign, stood alongside the motorway, whitewashed and emblazoned with the usual symbols: local chapters of the Elks and Rotary Club, the Boy Scouts of America, the Massapequa Chamber of Commerce, the Knights of Columbus, etc. Just across the road I spotted a tower of chrome and smelled the sickly aroma of artificially-flavored pancake syrup: the Massapequa Diner. The parking lot was packed with shiny SUVs. One bumper-sticker read: “THE 2ND AMENDMENT: America’s Original Department of Homeland Security”—historical revisionism in 140 characters or less.
A procession of wrinkles, Keds, and aluminum walkers ambled from the parking lot up through the entrance. Having worked at Dennys for a hellish few months during college, I knew diners to be magnets for seniors, but the demographics of the clientele on this particular morning suggested a day out at the convalescent home. Against my best judgement, I had been drinking too much the previous night. A few potent Manhattan cocktails were now, only six hours later, stoking the latent migraine I could sense throbbing at my temples with greater and greater intensity. I got a table and ordered up a western omelet and a pitcher of water, hoping to thwart my fast-developing hangover.