ELECTRON MAGAZINE
Number Two

LONG ISLAND

from the book 17 DAYS: The Katie Beers Story

by Arthur Herzog

Long Island . . . could be divided into three parts, all different, and different among themselves.  The diversity was astonishing.

East of New York City, abutting Queens and Brooklyn, you have Nassau County, itself a study.  The largely Jewish Five Towns, or points as they are sometimes called—Woodmere, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood and Hewlett (called "You Let" by its inhabitants)—are studded with synagogues, wedding caterers, funeral homes.  Bethpage is known as "bagels and pasta" because of its Jewish and Italian mix.  Somewhere in the island’s middle is Levittown, former farming country, few trees, uniform homes on small lots, Archie Bunker country, to which people first escaped the overcrowding that is New York City.  Wall-to-wall shopping malls on Route 27, the Montauk Highway, with all the usual stores and outlets—7-Eleven, Toys "R" Us, the familiar fast-food joints, gasoline stations—a real visual bore.  Garden City is in sharp contrast.  Laid out along lines suggested by planner Lewis Mumford, it is truly a model town.

To the north lies the gold Coast—Sands Point, Lloyd Harbor, Oyster Bay, and Oyster Bay Cove, with the median family income of $150,000; Cold Spring Harbor, with a famous scientific lab; Locust Valley, with a blueblood country club.

Then comes Suffolk, the second-largest county in New York with a population of 1.4 million and a budget of $1.7 billion.  Despite areas of affluence, Suffolk is largely middle and lower-class, with the highest concentration of AIDS outside New York City.  Pockets of deep poverty also exist.  Suffolk tried to ban plastic, banned detergents for a while and put the Shoreham nuclear power plant out of business.  It is environmentally liberal but politically conservative—an odd mix.  Some of it has been ghettoized by unscrupulous realtors who wouldn’t show houses to blacks in white areas.  Brookhaven has a particle accelerator.  Some towns are pretty, like Blue Point, Sayville, Bayport; others—like Coram, formerly famous for rugs—decidedly not.  This is big hair country—the women tease it up—and, on the south shore, it’s a boating haven where houses stand by canals.  Babylon, Bay Shore, Patchogue, Speonk, Wyandanch, Ronkonkoma—this is Suffolk.

But another Suffolk exists, the third part of Long Island, so different and detached from the rest that some want to secede and form the new county of Peconic, tiny in population but large geographically.  At Riverhead the land mass parts.  The North Fork is farmland, ending at Orient Point with the ferry to Connecticut across Long Island Sound.  The South Fork includes the Hamptons, much ballyhooed for ocean beaches, big houses, and glitz, although as on the rest of Long Island, the contrasts can be startling.

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Marilyn quit school at seventeen, lived in New York City a few years, then returned to her parents’ ten-room house on Higbie Drive.  Among other things, she drove a cab.  Marilyn’s bra size (when she wore one) was forty-six triple D, and her fellow drivers called her "mamou" because of her mammaries, of which she was proud and would lay on restaurant tables in a low-cut blouse.  Marilyn had a serious car accident but her breasts, acting like air bags, saved her from hitting the windshield.

One fare Marilyn picked up in her cab was Linda Butler and they became close friends.  Both liked to shop, hang out at bars, smoke cigarettes, and eat.  Five feet six, pretty and curvaceous, Linda could have had a crack at a modeling career if she’d lost ten or fifteen pounds, but declining that, she worked as a babysitter and in factories and a kennel.  She’d wanted to be a nurse’s aide but couldn’t stand the sight of blood.  She, too, had dropped out of school.

In 1975, Marilyn gave birth to John Beers.  At the time, she would not admit who the father was.  Her father, Stu, a disciplinarian, had served as father figure to the boy.

Marilyn got pregnant again by a man she claimed she didn’t know—a pickup at a bar, she said.  There was no one to bring mother and infant home from Bay Shore’s Southside Hospital, so they took a taxi.  The Beerses’ house lacked baby supplies and Marilyn was without money to buy them, so a neighbor helped.  Another contributed a used carriage.

Linda had wearied of some of Marilyn’s habits—her abrasiveness toward her parents and fascination with the occult, Stephen King, and Ouija boards—and the two hadn’t been in contact in several years when they ran into each other at a Bay Shore shopping mall.

Marilyn asked, "Did you know I had a baby?"

Linda said she knew.  That same day, she stopped at the Beerses’ ramshackle house to see the infant.  "Katie, two months old, was in a beat-up blue carriage.  No crib, no toys.  I knew that baby would need me," Linda rhapsodizes, memory colored perhaps by the disputes with Marilyn over Katie that came later.

That same day—the Higbie Drive house was close to Linda’s rented place—Marilyn wheeled the baby over.  She said she hadn’t been able to sleep.  "She was on welfare.  I told her to sleep at my place, but she didn’t like to sleep in someone else’s bed and she went home.  She called to ask if Katie could spend the night.  The next day and the day after that she still wasn’t well and I kept the baby.  Katie started needing clothes and I sent to Marilyn’s to get them.  That was how it started.  I was making candies to sell so I could stay home.  A week went by...."

Marilyn’s recollection was somewhat different.  Goo-goo eyed about the child, Linda asked if she could keep her for a couple of months, and Marilyn agreed.  "I always knew where she was and I always knew she was taken care of."

Copyright ©1993 by Arthur Herzog

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