NOODLES BY THE SUNSET – by Eric Friedmann
I’ve been a seasonal resident of the village of Westhampton Dunes, occupying the same house since the year 1978. I’ve seen the gradual destruction of Dune Road by beach erosion and the wrath of Mother Nature. I’ve also witnessed its slow and triumphant return to the community that made it a part of their very beings. The one constant of being a seasonal resident is that the time I’ve spent out here has been very structured and rather disciplined. This means opening the house in May and closing it in October, while in between hitting the road of the Long Island Expressway in the early evening hours of Friday night and then hitting it all over again forty-eight hours later to head back home; both times, hoping and praying the traffic won’t be quite as bad as you anticipate. The only break from this weekly routine one can look forward to is the three times per season when we’re granted that little bonus of extra holiday time.
This has been my life…actually, my summer life since I was a child with my parents right up until my present adulthood with my own wife and son. When you’ve been following a routine like this one year after year, it’s very easy and very tempting to dream of not only some very significant extra time at the beach house you love and cherish so much, but it’s also very tempting to even fantasize about a small degree of full time residence here. How many times have I often said to my wife, “I wish I could feel what’s it’s like to be out here for an extended period of time.” How many years have I tried to make something like that happen? How many years does such an attempt come up short? This is what, perhaps, defines a fantasy; a yearning for something that is very likely improbable in one’s life.
This sort of fantasy of mine doesn’t simply mean staying inside my house and not having to leave it for an extended time. In my mind, I consider what it would be like to wake up early in the morning to the sound of the ocean waves crashing on shore across the street on Dune Road and begin the ritual of getting ready for work, to drive during the early morning sunlight to my job, to return home during the work week when the town of Westhampton Beach is very quiet, to pick up some fresh seafood from one of the local establishments, to end my day with a refreshing swim in the Atlantic Ocean before grilling myself a satisfying dinner, to perhaps have the time left in the evening for a late movie at the local Hampton Arts cinema while it, too, is very quiet during the work week, and then finally to be able to look forward to doing it all over again the next day. This was a fantasy of permanence; one I was beginning to think I would never experience.
Thankfully, though, the idea of “never say never” came to pass during the month of August 2012, when my wife and six year-old son took a trip to see her family in Colorado and I chose to stay behind. At the time, I was working as an architect in the town of Melville just off the Long Island Expressway exit. “This is finally it!” I thought. For the next several days, I was going to experience what it would be like to actually live at my beach house by myself amidst the routine tasks my typical work life. Sure, I was looking at some extra driving time and extra money for gas to commute from Melville to Westhampton Beach for several days, but I considered this secondary to the ultimate payoff that I was searching to achieve. A payoff, I might add, that never deterred me from the important fact that I love and adore my wife and son and would never want to be without them. Remember…this is the indulgence of a fantasy.
So, now my mind and my memory centers on a particular Thursday evening during my “alternate life”. It is the last weeknight before they weekend crowd will descend to wreak havoc upon the Hamptons and I’ve chosen to leave the office early to get in just a little extra time for myself. The day is sunny, warm and very clear. Traffic is light, of course, for a Thursday evening. When I get into town, I choose to pick up some Chinese food for dinner instead of grilling again. Some Lo Mein noodles with shrimp sound just perfect for this evening’s meal. Driving down Dune Road to my house, there are only two thoughts in my head. The first is that the desertedness of the road and the blazing sun over the bay continue to draw me in deeper and deeper into this rather selfish fantasy of mine. The second is that there is a clean and very quiet house awaiting my arrival. Once I’ve settled in, I realize that it’s only about 6 pm and I’ve still plenty of time for an ocean swim before twilight sets in. The water is calm and surprisingly warm. There are only just a few other people on the beach. Those that are here aren’t ruining this moment for me by talking loudly on their cell phones (thank goodness!). Back at home, a warm and relaxing shower washes the salt water and the pressures of my job down the drain. A comfortable t-shirt and a Chinese dinner are all that stands between me and a very soothing evening.
Now it’s about twenty minutes later and I’m paying very strict attention to the environment I’ve created for myself. I’m sitting at the table at my rear deck which faces the bay. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around tonight. The umbrella is open. On the stereo inside the house, I have one of my favorite CDs, Steely Dan’s “Aja” playing at a nice volume. From a large Chinese take-out box, I’m eating warm shrimp Lo Mein noodles with a pair of cheap wooden chopsticks and drinking an ice cold Corona beer with a wedge of lime inside the bottle. The only sight in front of me is the sunset creating a miraculous orange glow over the water that separates Westhampton Dunes from the town of Remsenburg. As I close my eyes for a moment, there are inescapable and undeniable thoughts running through my head. I’m thinking, “Man, I really love my wife and my son. I miss them both very much. But right here, right now, this is what it feels like to be Eric Friedmann. This is what true peace feels like. This is what true contentedness feels like. This is what true solitude feels like. Tonight, I’m nobody’s husband. Tonight, I’m nobody’s father. Tonight I have no other responsibilities or obligations to anyone other than myself. Tonight, Donald Fagen of Steely Dan is singing only to me. Tonight, I’m a full time resident of Westhampton Dunes and the beach house I live in. Tonight, life is as simple as noodles by the sunset.”
My family returns from Colorado just days later. I’m happy to see them again and I remind myself that they mean everything to me. However, my attitude and my honesty is not so selfless that I don’t wonder when and if my temporary fantasy of an alternate lifestyle in the Hamptons that brought me moments of peace and serenity cannot one day possibly return. Maybe….