New Heathens


Awfully gratified to get a  front-page, top-of-the-fold, lead byline, and in the Sunday New York Times no less. That's a first.

In my job as a stringer I send a lot of "feeds." A feed, for any non-journalist reading here  (assuming anybody's reading here) is a memo of rough notes, descriptions and quotes. Reporters and editors weave them into main stories. Some assignments I send one feed. Some assignments I send a dozen.

Feeds are trimmed and edited, most often. But sometimes, like an outtake from a rock 'n' roll album, one stands on its own.


Carmine Trotta, 55, lost his home in Patchogue when Hurricane Sandy floodwaters swelled up to the rafters. For three months he crashed with a friend in Bellport, missing his privacy. He was excited and relieved to finally get to move into a good one-bedroom apartment in Bayport.

Then two-and-a-half feet of snow fell on his plans.

"As you can see, my life has been full of surprises," he deadpanned in the parking lot behind Brinkmann Hardware in Holbrook where the only available U-Haul rental trucks sat insulated in snow and blocked by an ice-mound shoved high by a snowplow.

Dressed in a black fabric coat, black leather shoes and blue jeans, Mr. Trotta said his life's crossroads seem to coincide with the Northeasts' worst weather. Before the blizzard, and before Hurricane Sandy, his wife caught pneumonia during Hurricane Irene and died days later. Her name, by coincidence, was Irene, too. She was 62.

"I feel I have a black cloud that hangs over me from time to time," Mr. Trotta said. "Literally."

Mr. Trotta, who sells office supplies, bustled into the hardware store and would not take no for an answer when the store manager with spiky hair and a bleached-blond soul patch told him the moving trucks would not move. Mr. Trotta explained that he'd reserved a rental truck with Budget in Medford, but the company canceled because their snowplow contractor never showed up.

The manager, Rich Kearney, 44, was unswayed.

"I have to be honest with you, I'm not about to spend my morning digging trucks out," he said.

Mr. Trotta then offered to supply his own workforce. He picked up two day laborers at the 7-11 in Farmingville earlier in the morning, and they were waiting the back of his minivan.

"I've got two Mexicans with me who will dig it out," Mr. Trotta told Mr. Kearney.

The two laborers shuffled to the back lot and silently scooped away at the snow using the second most expensive brand of shovel in the store; the most expensive brand sold out on Friday, Mr. Kearney said.

Pedro Pacheco, 30, said he made it through the snow to the Farmingvile 7-11 because he needed money.

"Necesito dinero," he said, hoisting a spade of blocky ice chunks. "Mucho heavy, mucho shovel too."

Mr. Trotta laughed at the scene.

"When I said moving I didn't say moving snow!" he hollered at the men. "But at least we're moving something!"

He explained that picking the men up before he got the moving truck was a tactical move. With the Long Island Expressway closed, it would be too difficult to maneuver a U-Haul through Suffolk County's unplowed sidestreets to the 7-11, so Mr. Trotta went there first.

"I guess I'll be buying them lunch too," he said, standing slightly hunched, watching the men move a mountain of snow.

When the truck was almost free, Mr. Trotta went back inside the hardware store to buy an ice-scraper to clear the vehicle's windshield. Mr. Kearney handed him the last one and apologized for its color, pink, by way of explaining that all the other colors had sold out.

"My wife would like this," Mr. Trotta said to no one as he handed over his credit card.

Soon the truck was free. Mr. Kearney warned that the residential streets were abysmal. Mr. Trotta said he was unsure if the access road to his new bachelor pad had been plowed.

"It's putting a little damper on everything," Mr. Trotta said pulling on a gray knit cap.

With that, Mr. Trotta handed the truck keys to Mr. Pacheco. Then the widower in the gold minivan led the convoy out of the hardware store parking lot. The two Mexicans followed behind, the side of their truck advertising a state park in Arkansas where visitors can find and keep their own diamonds.


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  1. now that’s what I call tenacity! good story, nate

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