Before Robert Moses carefully plotted the lines that divide us, before planners dissected the land, and before power lines were strung and the grid was lit, Long Island was an expansive garden paradise. Our natural resources and beauty were exploited by the earliest people who settled on our shores. It was a haven for farmers, fishermen and bootleggers who made use of the bounty and access the Island provides. It was also the billionaire’s playground, a religious sanctuary and a geographic wonder.
There are few places in this nation that offer as many vistas. Save for snow-capped mountaintops, Long Island has everything a naturalist could desire. Despite our modern-day suburban sprawl, this was the island I knew and identified with. It’s the impression I held in my heart when first taking leave of this place to attend Skidmore College upstate. Only when I left Long Island did I really learn what others thought about us.
“Do you know Amy Fisher?”
If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times. This history of the place I was so proud to represent faded in an instant on the fateful day a young, misguided Amy Fisher appeared on the doorstep of her lover Joey’s house and put a bullet in his wife’s face.
She was dubbed the Long Island Lolita and she became a part of all of us that day.
Several years later I would come face to face with the issue of Amy Fisher. Quite literally, in fact. Our founding editors, Robbie Woliver and Bill Jensen, contacted Amy through an intermediary to see if she was ready to tell her side of the ordeal that had become her life. To our surprise she answered positively to our request and we published the first ever piece authored by her hand. The response, as you can imagine, was overwhelming.
After the deluge of mail, we prodded further and asked if she would consider contributing on a semi-frequent basis. Amy countered with the idea of writing a weekly column of her observances and life experience as an ex-con and now a mother. As a publisher, the obvious win was the coverage we would receive. The downside, however, was huge. We were a new paper seeking to establish a credible voice in a community not all that receptive to new publications, as evidenced by our lack of local media coverage in spite of a substantial population. This could have gone either way.
After weighing the options, I heavily favored publishing her column, but not for the reasons many suspected. This was my chance to rehabilitate not only Amy Fisher’s image and legacy but to write a new chapter in Long Island’s history. To prove our resiliency as a unique people who can embrace our wild and dark side and move forward. The only question was whether or not she could write. Producing a weekly column requires research, dedication and focus. Amy possessed all these qualities and wound up crafting one of the cleanest, least edited columns we have ever run.
Amy went on to write her memoirs with our editor-in-chief, Robbie Woliver. She did the talk show circuit and garnered an enormous following. We had helped script a new ending to her saga—one where she emerged victorious from her follies and tragic youth. I was even pictured in the last chapter of her book and credited with helping her achieve this newfound level of status in her life. She was very grateful and so was I.
After the book-tour hoopla and talk shows died down, the reality of a columnist’s pay became all too real and we parted ways. We got as much as we could from each other and moved on, satisfied with a job well done.
Of course, it doesn’t end there. It never does on the Island. Amy found her way into reality TV pitch land with several near-misses for an actual show. Joey continued to get into trouble and Mary Jo has finally broken her silence and written her side of the saga. Oh, and Amy got into homemade porn and made it big on the Internet. Sometimes I wish they would all just go away but family never does. A good friend of mine describes Long Islanders as “one big family… The Addams Family, but a family nonetheless.”
Oh well. At least now when some off-Island jerk asks, “Do you know Amy Fisher?” I just smile and say, “Of course I know her. I’m from Long Island.”
If you wish to comment on Off The Reservation, send and email to [email protected]