Duke lacrosse from a Starbucks in Garden City, NY

by Brian Clarey

On the day before Christmas the corner of 7th Street and Franklin Avenue in Garden City, NY thrums like the precisely tuned motor of a fine European car.

They’re taking the brick sidewalk on 7th in wide, leisurely steps, these people of mine, chuffing along with cheeks red and eyes watering a bit from the chilly wind and the glare cast from the sun, which at high noon in December in New York casts the streets in clear white light. It’s exploding off the chrome of the cars in the parking lot behind 7th Street. I’m looking at it right now from a back table in Starbucks, which wasn’t here when I was growing up but has become such a bustling social center that the people of this town don’t know what they did without it.

It’s nice to be home.

And it’s fitting, I believe, that I address the Duke lacrosse case one more time from this table in the heart of Garden City.

Everyone’s talking about it around here. Of course they are, as they pick up last-minute gifts, grab a slice at GC Pizza on Franklin or maybe duck into Leo’s for a quick pop before swinging back into the clear, cold day.

It’s on the front page of the New York Times today: a detailed description of Brian Meehan’s testimony two weeks ago when the director of the private DNA lab dropped a deuce on Durham’s No. 1 lawyer: Yeah, there was DNA from a bunch of guys. But none of it matched the lacrosse players. And I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.

Or something like that.

And when Mike Nifong dropped the rape charges against the three players last week, the people of Garden City took it as a harbinger of the eventual dismissal of the case. It’s what many of them have been praying for over at St. Joe’s down the street for nearly a year, when one of the village’s scions was accused of rape down in North Carolina.

No doubt the Finnerty family feels blessed this Christmas in their house on the hill. I hear some of the guys from the team are there tonight – Reade Seligman was spotted at Mama Theresa’s on Jericho Turnpike this afternoon – and that Collin’s dad is going to take them on a trip around the world when it’s all done.

And what the hell’… they deserve it after the year they’ve had, one in which their fairly insulated world was torn away in violent fashion after a woman in Durham cried rape and guys like me jumped to the conclusion that he and his buddies violated that girl in the bathroom that night, assuming they treated her like a piece of trash and maybe shared a high-five afterward like they do after big wins on the lacrosse field.

It was a leap of faith predicated on the word of a woman whose word is no good, it seems, and assurances by a district attorney who may not be worthy of the office.

I’ll tell you why I believed. It was not so much a matter of jock-hating, as many accused me of, though there was a bit of that, especially in the beginning. At first blush it seemed an eminently believable story – rapes happen on US college campuses every day, often involving sports teams. And after a time I simply could not fathom that a DA would pursue a case with such vigor, that a big-time university would cancel a storied program and force out a coach who had been with it for 16 years, unless there was something behind it.

And maybe I didn’t want to believe that a woman would cause such a furor, would do serious harm to people’s reputations, rend the very fabric of their lives’… all based on a lie.

If you’re paying attention then you know lacrosse is a big deal in Garden City, where a kid might get his first lacrosse stick at his baby shower and the status of the high school’s A-squad is a matter of constant discourse.

They were talking lacrosse at the bar in Walk Street last night, a couple guys drinking beers, both agreeing that the middle school program is an often-overlooked gem in the village’s overall game.

And more than a few times I wondered if someone would recognize me and give me a poke in the eye. I was, after all, promised a “Trojan welcome” if I dared walk these streets again.

But as much as I make fun of this town, I still kind of like it. It’s nice. It’s clean. I know how to get around. They know me and I know them.

If I sit here long enough I am sure I’ll see approximately 35 people I went to high school with. I’ve already seen a handful, including the Ripper, Fire Engine Red and Long-Fingered Andy. Tonight we’ll head to Dr. Lawyer’s house. Scully will be there and maybe some others.

And if I run into Finnerty or any of his family, which is quite possible, especially if I go to midnight mass tonight, I’ll tip my hand and apologize for judging the kid before I knew all the details.

It’s Christmas, after all’… as good a time as any to make amends. And a very appropriate occasion to celebrate all that is good in my home town.

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