‘Paradise Lost’ for a Day in the City
By Emilie Kutash
Sitting higher on the jitney seat than in my car, I can see grape vines lined in rows casting their shadows in repeating patterns in the vineyard fields on the way to Bridgehampton. Gainsborough large trees out of English landscapes. Diamond raindrops catching pinpoints of light on leafy green foliage. Dark umber green, Windsor green, and the green of olives in deep shadow. The birches look transparent as the sun suddenly comes out. These apparitions are my escorts as I leave the Hamptons for the first time in months. This is the Garden of Eden, why ever leave. The new born sun emerging from petulant clouds knock the color out of the foliage passing by my window as I advance away from them. The trees turn ghostly, protecting the old houses they have guarded for a century. Shadows become more defined and then there are the spiky points of spruces more certain shaped and high hedges with lighted tops. In addition, of course, the churches of Bridgehampton. I will now trade this all now for a day in the city. I went in there now less and less.
A denizen of the upper west side I had happily lived there for at least 30 years. The short version of the story, my neighbors spied on me anxious to get the next door apartment for their daughter. They reported I was only spending one or two nights there each week. I was served with a notice. I would be taken to court. The doorman would testify that I did not inhabit the apartment regularly. I threw in the towel and became a full time Hamptonite. I bought a birdbath and now I watch the birds, even pour boiling water from my teapot on it on icy winter days so the birds can drink. I walk on Girard drive and ride my bike. I found philosophy teaching jobs at the local colleges. I miss the city less and less. I watch the crows swaying on the tippy tops of the cedars in my yard and marvel at the balance creatures of nature find in unlikely places.
Stepping down the steep two steps that change me from a cared for jitney passenger to the cold cavernous streets of Manhattan, my old survival instincts seem to have vanished. I am much like a house cat that suddenly is set loose in the wild. The traffic seems ominous. The glass and steel high rise buildings form tree-less caverns. I am in a cartoon out of Superman’s Metropolis. I am aware of oncoming traffic as never before. I marvel at the New Yorkers whose happy feet beat the pavements and whose cell phones are suspended between ear and shoulder, balanced deftly, while their owners carry briefcases Absorbed in conveying information that cannot even wait a few blocks, they have developed sensors to determine when to cross the street without looking. They know which precise moment to cross Madison Avenue. I look from left to right hesitant to put my foot down on the curve and initiate the crossing. I follow the small droves of indifferent bedlamites. Women here knot their scarfs in ways that I resolve to practice as soon as I return home and women of a certain age still wear significantly high heels without visible discomfort. Sellers sell bananas and oranges imitation Gucci watches and pocketbooks I am in the forties for an appointment. After it, I must go uptown to 86th street where my new ‘living room’ awaits. Yes, my living room is now in the Greek and Roman section of the Metropolitan Museum of Art because that is where I meet my friends and relatives from my Manhattan days for lunch and a good chat. It is conducive to a visit. There is lunch in their better restaurant, where a beautifully constructed mozzarella and tomato on whole grain roll can be had with a lovely wine. One can sit for hours among the Greek and roman statues, my favorite spot, a sacred grove populated with the figures of gods and goddesses. I can sit right in the middle of the biggest apple in the world and dream of Greece and Rome. Here we can .and talk and catch up, show pictures of grandchildren, even discuss art. But first the subway.
What used to be a preferred method of transportation, an easy hop on hop off, a quick ride up or downtown, has taken on an eerie unfamiliarity as I descend the doubly deep sets of steps. I am in Dante’s Inferno. The subways deep s are the river Styx. There are hisses and moans and clustered souls stand on shores of spit and gum ground into dirty concrete. Oblivious the people seem to await an unknown fate. There is a sudden screech and a squeak of rusty wheels. This is the cities version of the chambers of hell for sure. In the car, the sinners stand swaying, stripped of their daylight, dead, and dumb. Yellow lights flicker on dull tile outside the dark and dusty glass of the doors. If this is not hell of long tube shrieks and tunnel blackness, it is certainly the cities subconscious, day times’ dark place, Lethe the river of forgetfulness
I meet my friend. She is a consummate New Yorker , aggressive , defending her rights in even the most benign of venues. She insists we should only pay a dollar to get into the museum not the suggest twenty-five, as her taxes support this particular museum as a public institution. As a philosophy teacher I internally debate the ethics of this but go along. I later find an article on the internet, which confirms the public funding and tax exemption of the museum, plus, they are mandated to supply free admission on a regular basis. Right on Lois, although, I still feel some moral unease on this one. We sit for hours in the Impressionists, this time, eat an early dinner in the restaurant. Walking fast on 86th street I make the 8 o’clock Jitney. The deep hollow of the bus enfolds me. I sink in my seat, wait for the chips and lemonade, and then, once through the tunnel nod off to sleep. I feel safe again .
It is an ink black night in East Hampton, Passing the large night trees on Twenty Seven, the bus careens around, skimming the side of the pond. The swans, motionless, are white shapes etched on the black water.. The town, which may or may not officially be the most beautiful town in America, looks like it is that -to me anyway.. It emerges out of the dark with its silent mansions and ghostly designer clothing store windows still lit up on an otherwise rainy and dark East Hampton night. The town has is own strange mystery tonight. Manikins in Ralph Lauren attire, deserted by the summer people, like the ancient statues in the museum, seem to belong to a long gone time. I cross Main Street a lone figure in Nightown. The street lights reflect in large puddles and the moon is out. I am rudely awakened from my reverie by the sight of a damp envelope stuck under my windshield wiper. There is a ticket on my car. I thought the time for ticketing in the lot adjacent to the Ladies Village Improvement Society was over for the summer. Should I fight it? After all, it is not only in Manhattan where one must hone advanced survival skills. The ticketing was only for the summer people not for me . Right? I’m now a year round resident. Is this just? Couldn’t’ they tell by my registration. But that’s just it. I am a citizen of East Hampton. Socrates accepted the unjust death penalty in the name of supporting the laws of Athens on principle. Though his sentence was unjust the laws of Athens were his laws and his court had decided by a majority. . Perhaps East Hampton is not heaven after all. But no, it is, it clearly is… and it’s my town-but next time it’s the long term lot, rain or no rain.