Old Town, New Journey
J.D. Van Wickler
The rain began just as I started to cross over the Shinnecock Canal. Fat water globules slopped the dirt on the windshield, obscuring my view. Spritzing windshield washer fluid, I flipped on the wipers and glanced out my side window. There, by the locks and the landings and the nearly black water, stood a little red house. Inexplicably, like a memory conjured up by a familiar aroma, I thought of Mystic, Connecticut, one of my favorite places. Was this a bait and tackle shop? Somebody’s home? I didn’t know, but it caught my eye, a welcome sight of nautical-ness after miles of scrub pines. It felt reassuringly familiar. My own emotions were anything but.
It’s been over an hour, I said to myself. What moron would drive over an hour just to go to school? How about when the weather is really bad? Wait until the snow.
I crossed the Shinnecock and continued driving, dutifully lowering my speed to forty-five, and then again to thirty. A long white strand of headlights glared at me, seemingly stretching for miles. “The Trade Parade”, my sister-in-law called it. She should know. She and her family have vacationed in Amagansett for over fifty years. She earned her summer money working at Gurney’s and fell in love with a boy from East Hampton when she was sixteen. Ask her how she feels about Amagansett, and she will answer “I love it. It’s so quiet. There’s nothing to do”. Ask my brother the same question and you get nearly the same answer. “I hate it. It’s so quiet. There’s nothing to do”.
I don’t get to go with them all that often, which is disappointing, because personally, I love it. My sister-in-law visits with her mother. My brother sits with his scotch and does Sudoku. I bring a camera and take pictures of interesting rocks and birds and wiggle my toes in the sand, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I’m the artsy one, anyway.
Being the artsy one is what’s bringing me out here on this cold, rainy night in November, an Open House at SUNY-Southampton to look into their MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature. One might think this is in preparation for a second career. Or even a mid-life crisis. No, it is not so much about launching a new career as trying to launch the old one, the one I envisioned for myself when I was a teenager, the one that always seemed to be pushed to the side in lieu of more substantial things. Like business.
To tell you the truth: I hated business. I hated every second of every Accounting class. What idiot goes to school for business, even returning for an MBA, and doesn’t like it? Obviously the same idiot who is here washing her windows in the rain and staring at a house on the Shinnecock Canal.
The wipers were slapping at the windshield, belittling me. “Dumb…ass…dumb…ass”, they taunted. I knew better than to answer back. Haven’t I heard that all writers are crazy? I have no intention of starting to talk to my windshield wipers, even if they are talking to me.
But their thin, sniping little chant echoed my own sneaking suspicions. Are you crazy? My father surely would have thought so. He was a child of the Depression, refusing to pay for any degree that would, in his opinion, result in no job prospects and a waste of money. At eighteen, I didn’t have two cents to rub together and could scarcely afford to put gas in my car, much less pay for my own tuition… so goodbye art, hello cubicle.
Damn it. I wasn’t going to let myself think this way.
It’s an hour before the Open House.
I drove gingerly down Main Street as the rain relaxed to a drizzle. It seemed oddly ironic to me that I was crawling toward the very spot the stocks and pillories were located in 1640, as if facing punishment for the educational errors of my ways. Of course, now the spot – Main and Job’s Lane – is the toniest part of town. It’s getting late. And now I’m hungry to boot.