Of course, those aren't the real lyrics to Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind"; that's why I had to modify them to make them appropriate to my current situation. I find few things more joy-inspiring than arriving at the ferry terminal in downtown New London, picking up a green ticket, and boarding a marine vessel bound for my native Long Island. At the end of such a trip, I get to hear what's probably my favorite seven-word phrase: "ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Orient Point." That means I'm a scant ninety minutes from the latest return to my ancestral home. So it was last night that at 6:04 p.m., the Minivan o' War arrived at the Ancestral Palace, leaving a nice green puddle of ethylene glycol solution in my parents' driveway. I was greeted by them, their fabulous chicken and spaghetti, and a birthday card containing four Benjamins - literally. It's a sum of money that is much needed at this juncture, as I'm in a bit of a financial pinch right now. Well, I'm in as much of a pinch as someone with twenty-three thousand American dollars in reserve can be. The Navy decided to celebrate our return to the Armpit of New England with a mega-douche move - by slow-rolling some paperwork, my basic allowance for housing (BAH) was suspended at the start of the month. It'll be restored retroactive to May 1, but that doesn't change the fact that my last paycheck was more than five hundred fifty dollars light. On the other side of the ledger, I've been shelling out all sorts of scratch to furnish the New Nexus of Hate, a task that's not yet complete (I still need a sofa, or more likely, a futon). My car decided to mildly shit the bed, so the repairs for that will take another bite out of my bank account. Keeping the vehicle fueled is an expensive task as well; while the national average price might be $3.79/gallon, it's over four dollars in both southeastern Connecticut and on Long Island. And in the second half of each May and November, another nice little bill comes up - that's right, it's time to renew my car insurance! I may yet get out of this month without having to invade my savings account. That said, the upcoming ship's schedule looks to give me plenty of opportunity to save aggressively.
Even with a leaking radiator, I took the Minivan o' War into downtown Northport last night to re-acquaint myself with my hometown. In my house there is a book about the history of Northport Village; one of its chapters is titled "Changing Yet Changeless." I can't think of a better descriptor for the downtown area. Everything looked pretty much the same, but many of the names have changed (in some cases, multiple times) since my childhood. I still love the place, and I'd love to live there once I'm out of the Seagoing Military Force - but the likelihood of that outcome is slim to none. I've read articles about Long Island's supposed "brain drain" in Newsday and elsewhere, and the MySpace and the Facebook have recently confirmed that an overwhelming majority of my high school class has fled the November-Papa-Tango. I was searching for empirical statistics to support this, and came across ZIPskinny, a compilation of ZIP code data from the 2000 Census. Punching in "11768" led to a set of charts that illustrates every point I could want to make on this subject. Median household income: $90,630 (a figure that my parents' earnings have never approached). Percentage of households with six-figure incomes: 45.1% (looks like about three times the national figure). Share of residents in their twenties: only seven percent, about half the figure for the United States. Northport has been gradually closing its doors to the immediate return of the very people it produces. As with everywhere else on the Island, one of the driving forces behind the exodus of youth is the sky-high cost of living, particularly housing and the associated property taxes.
As fortune would have it, today is the one day each year I get to express an opinion on this point that carries any sort of weight. It's the third Tuesday in May, so every school district in New York State (except maybe for New York City) puts its budget for 2008-09 before its voters today. By my rough estimate, I've spent less than twenty percent of my time in Northport since I graduated from high school nearly nine years ago. But my permanent residence has never shifted, so I'm still eligible to vote on the Northport-East Northport UFSD's spending plan. As I've done three times before (2000, 2002, and 2005), I voted "no." I do this for two main reasons. One is to support my parents, who no longer have children in the schools and don't need to see their property taxes rise any more than necessary. The second is that, as a libertarian, I'm opposed to the use of property taxes to fund schools at all. They unfairly penalize people who don't directly benefit from the services the district provides. Young people and senior citizens, some of whom have formed the backbone of this town for decades, find it increasingly difficult to make their personal budgets work - especially those on fixed incomes. Perhaps more importantly, the premise on which the current funding scheme is based simply doesn't wash. The idea is that we're supposed to be investing in the future of the community by spreading the financial burden of education over all property owners. As it stands right now, it looks to me like we're securing the futures of places like North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, and upstate New York - but certainly not Northport. Case in point? My brother and his fiancé, who are fleeing to Charlotte in the near future. They happened to luck into a sweet deal; Vanessa's parents live primarily in Germany, and so they don't use their home in the States very much. But I know they wouldn't make such a drastic move if they weren't motivated by the prospect of a cost of living that rises with no end in sight.
Having bitched and whined, and done my civic duty, I'll now spend the rest of my time off enjoying everything about this place that I can. It's always great to be back in the six-three-one, and a pleasure and an honor to represent it to the fullest.