A Day in the Life
You wake up at 5:30 as the sun shoots through your screen, egged on by an orchestra of birds and bugs. You still have half an hour before you have to be up to work. Check your phone, just to be sure. Roll back over with a smile on your face, and curse all of humanity in 30 minutes. You push back the pink bedspread and open the door of the sole bathroom in your cute Pine Neck bungalow. You look in the mirror and put toothpaste on your toothbrush. On your palate sits Wölferr rosé and truffled cheese from the party you crashed the night before. Your date marveled at the newly renovated two-story colonial, while you marveled at the writers there. You practically dropped your goat cheese crostini when Jay McInerney caught you staring at him. You brush your teeth, and go put on your khaki shorts and a white polo. An 18-year-old recent high school graduate you are, but the first text you send in the morning isn’t to a girl. It’s to a deli: Cromer’s. “Two eggs with bacon. salt pepper and ketchup.”
Since you can remember, the East End has been where your family goes on vacation. You don’t fly there, and you can’t go there in the winter. Nonetheless, Noyac is your favorite place. Nestled along the sand, it’s a quiet commune of beach bungalows. It’s a balanced oasis in a desert of excess. It’s the only setting that matches your dad’s stories of the East End 40 years ago. In Noyac, hedges are looked down upon, and convertibles are parked in front of houses that could double as garages. During the day for kids, it’s a bike track more intricate and storied than the tour de France; at night, it’s a playground lit by fireflies and scored by hide-and-seek counts. Crickets are interrupted by the cracks of teens’ first beers, and the moon is never taken for granted.
You slip into your untied golf shoes and stick the keys in the ignition of your Volvo station wagon. You took too long getting ready, but as you accelerate, you read your neighbors’ sign, “Drive like your kids live here,” and you do. You take the right onto Noyac Road and pull into the Cromer’s lot.
Inside, golfers and caddies exchange glances at each others’ belts and note who’s from Noyac, The Bridge, Shinecock—sometimes even the stray Maidstone member. You pick up your sandwich from the counter and grab a super-sized 32 oz Gatorade. The cashier recognizes you, and your experience in the service industry prompts you to smile at her. Her day in the service industry will be much different than yours. You’re on your way to the thick of it. If she gets a rude shopper, she’ll be done with him in two minutes. If you get a jerky golfer, you’re stuck captive for four hours.
You get back in the car and drive down . On the right is the mechanic. A 1998 black BMW two-door is parked in front of the garage, and you slow down to glance at the phone number on the sign. You drift a bit while your head is turned and the bumps on the double-yellow line are a sobering reminder that you are in no position to buy a car. You’ve been caddying for a month now, but you have yet to make a cash deposit. All of your cash has gone to the tackle shop, the taco stand or sometimes even Murf’s backstreet tavern, if you get lucky. At least you’re supporting local business.
You pull into the parking lot adjacent to the caddy shack. Between the gap of the picket fence and tarp roof, you see caddies standing. You got there too late. All of the chairs are taken. You park next to another caddy’s station wagon. His seat is reclined like the lounge chairs surrounding the pool at Noyac. But, the leather in his 1995 station wagon is no comparison to the carbon fiber-framed thrones from which the golfers’ wives rule their disobedient kids. Ashton and Maxwell have no interest in not running near the pool, despite their mothers’ shouts.
The walls of any caddy shack are sacred. For the older caddies, most of whom were burnouts 20 years ago, the caddy shack is their soapbox from which they tell younger caddies what not to do in life. But, they manage to do it without warning, “Hey, lay off the weed every once in a while,” They don’t need to. Their curses after losing $30 in a poker game are almost as powerful as their inabilities to stop until they lose $300. You’re lucky. Your old caddy gig in Westchester was filled with burnouts: men who caddy for guys younger than them; men who smoke Newports like they blink their eyes. But at Noyac, it’s as glamorous as you’d envision: kids well-mannered enough to be around a country club, but down to earth enough to work for their money. You say, “what’s up?” to the kids who’ve quickly become your bros. It’s easy to meet girls out there. But, it would take something extraordinary to forge a bond as strong as the ones forged by four years in your all-boys school back home. For you, the caddy shack has provided a stage on which you can tell your most sophomoric jokes to people who laugh harder than you. Somehow you’ve managed to mask the summer kid thing. They don’t think you’re an asshole. You’ve stayed humble. But you still feel a bit obnoxious.
The caddy shack is a raised stage tucked into the corner of the service lot. Your club is the preeminent-reject country club. Men without the stature or origins to belong to Shinnecock head to your little 18 holes in the middle of the woods. Its greens, immaculate, but its members, not so much. They act as if it’s the caddies’ fault that their pride and joy— the logo on the polo that displays their superiority at the 92nd Street Y— is north of the highway. There is an aura of resentment: these members were discriminated against for whatever reason, and now they seek to rid themselves of such resentment by passing it on to you; it’s the gift that keeps giving. If these people truly didn’t belong here, if they really were cut from the same blue blood-stained cloth as the members at Shinnecock, they wouldn’t begin conversations with other 50-something-year-olds by asking where they went to college. You listen to these introductions and you hope to God that by the time you’re successful enough to join a golf club, you won’t be reliving the moment you opened your college acceptance letter. The insecurity is heavier than the humidity, and class rings from Wharton are more common than dirt. And yet, you remained unimpressed.
The caddy shack is furnished with a glass table that must have belonged to a nice summer family at one point. It was abandoned on the curb, next to a sign that said “FREE.” Its glass top rattles with each poker chip thrown into the center during your three-hour games, which break out every Tuesday and Wednesday when the club’s members return to the Upper West Side. The chairs in the shack are of a similar origin. You suppose they were once durable enough for the outdoors. But winters of abandonment have made the rungs nimble, leaving caddies to sit like they forgot to check if the toilet seat was down before sitting.
To the left of you sits a caddy rolling his second unfiltered cigarette of the morning. You break into your sandwich and roll your eyes because they forgot the ketchup. You might as well eat sand. Another car pulls up. The passenger door opens, meaning it’s a caddy being dropped off. But it isn’t a younger caddy. It’s the closest thing to a burnout that Noyac has. But the only thing that draws that similarity is age. Mylo is 38 years old, you guess, although he insists he’s 34. The woman who dropped him off is his side chick, his goomar, his mistress. He walks into the caddy shack and wishes you and the other caddies a good morning in his faded Antiguan accent. He goes around the table and gives his favorites a fist bump. You get one, not because you’re anything special, but because he took the open seat next you. He puts his large coffee on the table. He unpacks his peanut M&Ms and stacks his two packs of Black and Milds next to his coffee. Mylo adds to an island feel of the place. You’re in the northeast, surrounded by fat cats and newly fat-lipped women. But at the bar after a round of caddy golf on Tuesdays, there is something about Mylo’s accent when he orders a round of Red Stripes that makes you think you’re in a brochure for the Virgin Islands.
You get called out on a loop. You’ve been caddying for five summers now, but this is your first year at Noyac. The biggest difference you’ve noticed between Noyac and your old spot is the people you’re caddying for. In Westchester, you caddy for a lot of men. “Father, husband, board executive,” is what their obituaries will read. But at Noyac, it’s whoever’s on vacation: grown-up kids, sons and daughters-in-law, crazy uncles. On this particular loop, you’re given Mr. Jenkins, and his son, Peter. You pick up both of their bags and walk to the first tee. The old man shanks it into the woods on the right, but pretends he didn’t see it. He asks you where it went and you politely point to the dense and ancient forest.
The son puts the ball in the middle of the fairway. The three of you walk down the fairway and they decide to break the awkward silence by playing 20 questions with you. They start with the one that used to be your favorite: where do you go to school? Your answer used to be your nice private school on a college campus in New York City. Chances are they knew a kid who went there. It sort of distinguished you as more than a caddy. You answered the question with an enthusiasm that screamed, “I’m like you!” But, the college process did end in your favor. You answer by saying you just graduated from the Prep and you leave it at that. No need to bring up college.
These guys aren’t plebeians. They say, “Oh, wow,” after hearing the name of your high school. But then they ask what you’re doing next. When you tell them about your second-rate Virginia state school, the drop in their tone correlates with the drop in your confidence since your parents put down the deposit. You make sure to tell them it’s in Virginia to avoid the, “Oh nice. . . Where’s that again?” They ask you what you want to study and instead of trying to justify your 50% acceptance-rate-college with a gripping narrative about the writing program that sold you on accepted students day, you say you’re unsure. By the time this happens, you’re at Peter’s ball. You give him a distance to the flag and then go off to pretend to look for his dad’s ball. It’s long gone, but you’re expecting to separate papa Jenkins from at least $175 in four hours. The least you can do is contract a couple of ticks for him. After a moment, you reach into your bib and pull out a brand new Titleist Pro V1 ball: the newest and most expensive ball on the market, and the only ball members will use.
“It’s over here, Mr. Jenkins.”
Your loop seems like four days of the Masters in one sitting. You wander endlessly from ball to ball. Each putt from Mr. Jenkins comes with a meaningless and hollow green read.
“How is this gonna roll, Caddy?” he barks.
You grimace and roll your eyes behind your tortoise shell Ray Bans. You have a name. You answer the question by saying the least with the most words. It’s not going to matter. He would mess up the put if Tiger Woods was giving him reads all day.
“This green is sorta tricky because it’s such a drop off toward the back. Keep in mind that you are uphill. Let the grain of the green control the break.”
Mr. Jenkins picks his ball up and curses after his fourth attempt to sink the same putt. You stick the flag back in the hole and pretend you didn’t just witness the worst nine holes of your life. You walk to the bags, pick them up, and slow your pace so Mr. Jenkins can offer you something—one thing— from the halfway house. You thank him for the Gatorade like a kid thanking his parents on Christmas, and hurry to the next tee box.
He hooks the ball left, straight into the native Noyac scrub oak, as he did on a few other holes. But, this time, it is not his fault. No, this time, you are standing in the perfect spot to catch the blame for his donation to the gophers’ collection.
“Don’t they tell you where to stand one this hole? For God’s sake as soon as I picked my head up from my swing you were standing right there. How the hell am I supposed to swing with you right there?”
His tantrum is interrupted by the sound of a ball kissing the sweet spot of his son’s driver. You mutter, “sorry,” as you watch the glob of white soar across the sky like a daytime shooting star. The rest of the round pans `out in the same manner. For the next two hours, you apologize to Mr. Jenkins for his bad swing, poor practice habits, and general inferiority. After he quits his final hole, the three of you march to the bag room. You put his bag on the ground and step away so he can take his belongings from the bag. He pulls out his phone, the sweater he didn’t need to begin with, and his wallet. It’s bulging at the seams with cash, begging him, “Don’t die with all of me. You really don’t need to keep me in here. I haven’t seen the light since 1988.”
But, if Mr. Jenkins is one thing, it is certain, and he absolutely certain that your four hours in the sweltering heat was not worth more than $60: the bare minimum members can pay a caddy. You smile, thank him, and watch as he and his son walk toward their Ferrari to go home.
On to the next job—the one you like.
Since seventh grade when your parents rescued you from the bowls of Abercrombie and Fitch, you have always appreciated traditional preppy clothing. To your eighth grade dance you wore a seersucker bow tie, and for your four years at the Prep, your choice of neckwear could be best described as an aquarium; you had a red tie with bluefish, a yellow tie with marlin, a green tie with whales, a pink tie with crabs, and pants with Shamu himself. So, when the opportunity arose to work at one of your favorite preppy stores, you jumped so quickly your pink shorts were at your ankles. Sixty-five percent off at your favorite store, the chance to dress people the way you think they should dress, and the opportunity to be the only straight guy working with all of those cute girls in sundresses— all reasons to work two jobs and six days a week. Or so you thought.
Working at the store has proven to be less glamorous than you imagined. Winey mothers and messy stockrooms is what wakes you at night in cold sweats. Before working there, you never realized how much effort went into perfecting a style that originated from people not caring. Routinely, you pick your head up while steaming the factory-faded, spread collar dress shirts and wonder if the ol’ Yalies envisioned this when they taped their loafers out of laze and popped their collars for UV protection when sailing.
A woman walks in with her grandson. Her skin is a leather finer than her over-sized designer bag. You greet her, as corporate expects you to, with a smile as she walks in.
“What can we help you find?” you ask her.
“I’m shopping for my grandson. Jack, say hello. What are the things the popular kids his age come in to buy?”
You can’t tell if she’s serious.
“Well, our vintage pocket tees are super popular at the moment,” You cringe inside as you say “vintage.” How can something sold as new be called vintage? You know vintage. The herringbone Paul Stuart blazer you scored in the Southampton Hospital is vintage. Teeshirts with distressed logos are not vintage. You spend the rest of your shift walking around the store and fixing all of the mistakes in the presentation of the alleged traditional men’s clothing: you unbutton the bottom button on the blue blazers, you put a dimple in the mannequin’s tie, and you swap red bow tie on the pink shirt for a green one.
After work, you meet up with Delilah, your most cultured friend there. Delilah’s mother is the heiress to some foreign beer company, leaving Delilah with unlimited Ubers. But, despite what people have suggested, you aren’t friends with her for her free rides. She’s friends with you because you pulled that local field hockey bruiser off of her on New Years Eve; she’s friends with you because you always know what how to deal with angry police; she’s friends with you because you’ve stuck by her side when her other friends get lost to parties and boyfriends; and you’re friends with her because you love her.
Delilah is a local, kind of. She left public school in 6th grade for the only private school on the East End. After middle school, she went to boarding school in New England. She technically lived in Sag, but only in the summer and on breaks. The two of you head to Bay Burger. You order a fish burger and sit in your regular spot right near the register. Your favorite hobby together is people watching as customers order.
A woman walks up to the counter. She orders a veggie burger.
“That comes with a side of fries or a salad,” he asks.
“What kind of dressing?”
The woman takes a deep breath.
“Well I’m vegan and I don’t eat gluten, soy, dairy, or nuts,”
You stare at Daisy. Is she serious? Is her life really that complicated? You both widen your eyes and smile. Coke almost shoots out of your nose like you’re eight. But you aren’t eight. You’re eighteen; you’re single; you have a car, two jobs, and you’re at your summer house for another month before college starts. Delilah whips out her phone, and tells you about a party the next day. You say it sounds nice, but you don’t mean it. You’re not focused on tomorrow. You’re thinking about today. Step by step, job by job, party by party you stay calm, reserved, and treat each day like another day in the life.