On Long Island, Memories of Harvey Milk Have Expired
The irony of Bay Shore Furriers and Leather Salon is that, while it’s the only building on the block that survived a fire six years ago, nobody seems to remember the lanky kid whose parents opened the store in the 1940s. He played linebacker for the junior-varsity team in the then-prosperous south-shore Long Island town, boxed groceries, graduated in 1947 and never really returned.
Today, no one has heard of Harvey Milk in Shore Drug or Bridal Suite or
the New Men's Shop, despite the impending release of Gus Van Sant's
fine new biopic, Milk, starring Sean Penn. Nor have the heavily
made-up women smoking outside the office suites, the teens in the pizza
joint, anybody drinking at the Playhouse ("A Unique Martini Lounge"),
the three mothers pushing strollers to their cars
("wellgoodlucktoyouwiththat!" one says, with fake cheer), the waitress
at the kosher deli or the twentysomethings outside the sporting-goods
"A movie about a politician? That sounds really boring. No offense," one says, her arms crossed. “What'd he do that was so special?"
Harvey Milk's path to history—and to Milk—brought him to college in Albany, and then to the Navy, Wall Street and, in 1970, San Francisco. After opening a camera store there, the charismatic Milk became a community activist and, in 1977, the first openly gay man elected to major public office. He worked as a San Francisco City Supervisor and helped turn the tide on gay-discrimination referendums before being shot and killed (along with mayor George Moscone) in 1978, by former City Supervisor Dan White (played in the film by Josh Brolin).
At Bay Shore Furriers, a woman buzzes me inside. The furs and bulbous hats are impassive in their wooden stalls, the air heavily conditioned. I’m the only customer. The current owner's father bought the place in the ’60s, the woman tells me. She's never heard of the Milks either, but she’s slightly more excited about the movie than the rest of the people I’ve talked to. It's coming out in November, I tell her. I remind her again about Sean Penn.
"Sounds like a plan!" she says as if we have a date, and shows me to the door.