Not long after the 9/11 ceremony at Cornerstone Park, comments whipped around Facebook that the proprietor of Smalley’s Inn, Tony Porto, had said unkind things about first responders. Supposedly, that it had been 17 years, it was time to let it go. Considering that so many of those firefighters and cops and EMTs who died that day came from upstate, including Putnam County, a comment like that would be striking, incendiary even. It became a topic in Carmel and on some of the pages of NYC firefighters or their relatives. I referenced it in my commentary about 9/11, without naming the establishment.
Then Rick Montes wrote to me. He’s direct but soft-spoken, not given to histrionics. His missive was thoughtful. Rick and his wife Annie live in Carmel, down the street. He’s a court officer. They’ve gone to Smalley’s for years. He wrote:
“Recently Smalleys has come under attack by some individuals posting vicious lies about the owner, Anthony Porto, on social media. It was claimed that during the 9/11 ceremonies Mr. Porto made negative remarks against 9/11 Remembrances. These unfounded postings have taken a toll on Smalley’s business, the owner and his family and the staff …. Tony Porto was a veteran of the Navy, serving his country honorably. He has built a business in the community he grew up in and provides a pleasant atmosphere, good food and a place where we can meet up with friends. What other businesses in the hamlet can boast those credentials? Yet a few faceless thugs post their rants against him and the sheep follow right along.”
Montes continued: “The perfect definition of a Mob Mentality. Many first responders, myself included, frequent Smalley’s on a regular basis. I have NEVER heard Tony utter a bad thing about any first responders. In fact, just the opposite. Tony is always praising the local Fire Department, Sheriff and Police. He is a proud veteran who understands the sacrifices made by our military. Why would he belittle the remembrance of 9/11? I hope that saner minds will prevail and Smalley’s gets back to business as usual. If Smalley’s were to go out of business because of these attacks, it would leave a hole in the hamlet that I am afraid will never be filled. Don’t believe the lies. Support a local business that will continue to serve and support our neighborhood and community. Hopefully for another fifty years.”
I met with Montes, his wife and Tony. We sat at a table just off the bar. Tony’s son Anthony joined us partway through (they’re actually both Anthony, but Tony’s wife, Anthony’s mom, said there had to be some way to tell them apart). Tony had no outrage, no bile. Regret, sure, that it had come to this, and that the confusing tangle of online megaphones would have such reach. Personally, he doesn’t even own a smartphone. He said he would never make such a comment, certainly doesn’t recall making one.
One of the definitions of news is what people are talking about, and by that definition, it absolutely was. But another, more baseline measure, is this: What exactly is it? What happened? Could this be, as Tony said, akin to the old-time game of Telephone? Where a story told by 5 or 10 or 35 people is soon twisted into something completely different, the context lost or even deliberately distorted?
Smalley’s is on Gleneida, at the traffic light. It couldn’t be more downtown. “We need more businesses like him,” Montes told me. “Not fewer.”
Next Tuesday is Election Day. Vote. And, if you see them, you might thank the candidates, of both parties. It takes a lot to run for office. The sacrifice, the headaches, the fundraising, the media. We are fortunate that so many races are contested, by qualified, thoughtful candidates.
Douglas Cunningham is editor of the Putnam County Courier and its sister paper, the Putnam County News & Recorder, in Cold Spring. Reach him at email@example.com, or call 845-265-2468.