Living off the Fat of the Hamptons
By E.B. Sanders
Where I come from, ‘The Hamptons’ are synonymous with mansions and garden parties. No one knows The Hamptons have all the same things we got back home, like farms and deer and hard times. Plus other things, like vineyards and docks where men eke out a living from grapes and cod the way we do from corn and hogs. Who knew that way out in The East End of Long Island, there was an Indian reservation, and a college?
I learned about the college first. While day dreaming through a twelve-hour shift, I decided it was time to go school, by the beach, since I figured that between those two ecosystems I’d stand a solid chance of meeting pretty girls, fast and easy as chaffing wheat in the gears of a combine.
I contacted my old guidance consoler, and she helped me navigate the SUNY inter-web maze. I applied right there online, and within thirty days I was notified that I’d be getting a college degree in the heart of The Hamptons. The Lord works in mysterious ways.
Come fall I tossed some gear and Cosmos, a shepherd-coyote cross, in the back of my inherited pickup, and headed off to college. When I arrived at school however, I was reminded that the Lord also gives, and the Lord taketh away. The school was, for all intents and purposes, shut, victim of politics far beyond this country boy’s grasp. The dorm rooms silent. The season winding down. The beach void of bikinis and the streets clear of skirts.
At the campus, I parked my truck in the empty parking lot and wandered along the paved walking path that wove between sterile university buildings, up towards a windmill, mammoth and wooden. The campus grounds were overgrown and Cosmos zig-zagged through the tall grass in search of anything. The trees on the grounds were strange, species that loved sandy soil and salty wind. I looked back, towards the ocean, and as I scanned my new surroundings, I saw, in the middle of the blacktop path, a massive groundhog. It was sitting upright on its haunches, its fat belly sagging from undisturbed feeding in the abandoned grounds. The only groundhog I’d seen bigger was stuffed in a display case in the foyer of my hometown’s funeral parlor. Ironic, since this groundhog was presently enjoying its last few breaths on God’s green earth.
Cosmos busted out of the weeds, head down, ears back, claws digging into the cracked blacktop.
A groundhog’s decisions should be easy to make. If you see your shadow, go back to sleep for six weeks. Or, if a half-coyote is rushing towards you, run, but the groundhog didn’t.
Growing up, I was taught, ‘If you kill, grill it’, and I’ve always made Cosmos follow the same rules, but the groundhog was too big to eat in one sitting, so I decided to butcher the rodent back at the campsite I’d be staying at until I found a place of my own.
After Labor Day, the county campground was entirely empty so I butchered the groundhog by the showers. Giving Cosmos the organs, I took the best cuts for myself, the back straps and hindquarters, and charred them on the barbeque, then mixed them with a can of creole rice and beans. I sat on my truck’s tailgate, and washed my groundhog jambalaya down with a cold beer. I lit a cigar and smoked it, while Cosmos crunched the remaining bones of his firstHamptonskill.
In the morning, the sun shone clear and strong and I knew I had to head to the beach to familiarize myself with my school books before classes started. It’s true I’d come down to The Hamptons for the beach and the girls and ‘cause I needed to get out of that god-forsaken town. But I’d also come here to learn, to make something of myself. Maybe add a little good to this tortured world.
The town beaches were still prohibited to outsiders for another week or so, so I had to drive a few miles of a paved dune that separated the surf from the bay. I’m sure the view would have been lovely if it weren’t for the hedges, thick and high enough to give the mansions behind them a sense of seclusion. Eventually I parked and walked to majesty. The autumn shore was empty and fine and the sound of the surf became the soundtrack to my life.