To Question Purpose
By Reid Paoletta
In the winter months,WesthamptonBeachis courted by ghosts. Really. I welcome you to ride out from your home ontoMain St., any time after dusk, and steal a look for yourself. They won’t be frightened. They won’t appear for a fleeting moment, spook you, and phase away. They will sit, slumber, and wait for their debut. They gawk directly at you, but I am unsure if they understand much of anything. Nevertheless, the ghosts are there, and they are real. I gaze and wonder, “will you ever know peace?”
As for the village itself,WesthamptonBeachis small, quaint, and secluded, straddled by the sea to the south and squeezed byMontauk Highwayto the north. Life in this coastal community happens in cycles — seasons, better yet. By Memorial day, our little getaway hamlet evolves in a brilliant second, like the way our cosmos stretched from the beginning of time to an endless Universe in only a flash. Forsaken homes awaken and endear summer rentals. Destitute businesses are jolted into function by insatiable customers. The beaches are stretched and compressed by hoards of guests and the roads– Oh, the roads that give me nightmares! These are ravished by markedly poor drivers (I use the term “drivers” loosely). Suddenly, the skeletons that rested three-quarters of the year have been wrestled from their closets and thrust back into the crowd to dance with life. My town is now owned by the Undead, surviving on nothing more than a temporary lease to live. Nevertheless, there is a pulse, and I have not felt a beat like this in some time. I feel anew.
June tore through the streets in a flurry of consumption and July followed suit. These months looked to consummate the village through rage. I stand on the corner of thePerformingArtsCenterandMain St.and observe the rumblings myself. Customers, customers, customers! And consumption! So vast, such immeasurable indulgence. I see men with their children and wives, all with ice cream melting and glazing their fingertips. Fathers fit their newspapers snug in their pits while sporting baseball caps, brazenly lettered ‘WHB’. Children flock in dozens to the toy-store and leave with new action figures, new games, new diversions for their likings. I set my gaze on the bucolic-turned-chaotic scene. I am stupefied.
It is now August, and it is hot. The air is heavy and thick, moist and humid. The rat-race rushes along, unrelenting, at an unforgiving pace. The horizon is close, but it still feels as though we are far from reeling it to shore. ‘We’ are the town, the natives, the businesses and buildings, and we are tired. We feel it in our bones, rattling and deepening with every honk of the horn, every peremptory shout, every summary wave of the hand. The guests that gave our town life seem to be telling us ‘GO’, but their commands fail to reach us. Our hearts say ‘STOP’, and in a way I miss the ghost town of old– its still welcome, its tacit comfort. I miss the way our town looks in the Winter, like an old rug I had as a young kid, where I rolled plastic trucks over carpeted roads past churches and bakeries and delis. I miss the way driving throughMain St. on a January night feels. It feels safe, secure and homey. It feels like a warmth that falls on your chest and sinks into your blood, carried to every corner of your body. By Labor Day, the invasion has been completed, and the I.V. has been pulled on the little village ofWesthamptonBeach. We retreat from relevance.
Its December again, and I catch myself riding through town, dissecting all my usual haunts. ThePAC. The Beach Bakery. The Gazebo. Windows cracked, I call the air to nip my nose and let waves past my cheeks, flooding my nose and piquing my senses. But I smell nothing; no smoke pours from the chimney tops. I hear nothing; no rustling feet rattle the sidewalks. The ambiance may be chilled, but I am warmed. The ghost town before me is restored, the full brunt of its rustic beauty laid for my leisure. I look down the strip of empty stores and alleyways, searching for the ghosts. I see them. I have read their story, I have learned their souls. I wonder; have they learned mine?