A Perfect Day
I raised my face to soak in the warm rays and inhale the fragrance of freshly cut grass and slightly salty air.
“Isn’t the silence wonderful? I love playing on grass.”
“You know that’s legal now in Colorado.”
“Yeah, yeah. Seriously, don’t you love how soft and cushy it feels under your feet? And listen . . . you can hear the ocean.”
“I know. Heaven.”
I was treating one of my pals to a tennis match at the Meadow Club, a posh, exclusive hideaway of endless manicured lawn, courts with flawlessly drawn lines and perfectly measured nets, and beautiful, fit members in pristine white, hitting shots that only $100K in lessons can buy. I’m a poor jazz musician with neither the social standing nor pocketbook to be a member, but I have decent strokes and connections.
I’ve always been a sporty girl but never have much time to be sporty. Moving to Sag Harbor gave me colorful falls, peaceful winters, sparkling springs, spectacular summers, small town ambience and the opportunity to play sports in impossibly beautiful settings. I was here about two minutes before I started a weekly summer softball game in Mashashimuet Park, an idyll so quaint and serene it looks like a setting from an Andy Hardy movie.
I grew up in Southern California where a beach day started with a hot run across scorching sand through side by side sunbathers in search of an empty bit to call your own before your toes turned to toast. One hoped to find a spot without a blaring radio nearby or screaming children, or a beach ball game in progress that might take your head off.
You could still drive through strawberry fields on your way to the beach when I was a kid, but that disappeared fast in ensuing years. My first visit to Main Beach in Sagaponack reminded me of my CA youth as soon as I saw the barns and plows and fields of corn and potatoes along the way. But while the Pacific appears as a dramatic crescendo from the elevated vantage point of the tectonically raised landscape, the Main Beach Atlantic sneaks up on you. You ride through storybook-perfect farmland and suddenly the fecund fields end, the sand begins and . . . wow! Is that the OCEAN???
I moved to Sag Harbor full time in the summer of 1992, which is memorable for many reason, but mostly for the fact that I had some time off with a well-paid fall tour already booked, so I could relax and enjoy the summer knowing money was in my future. Everyone thinks musicians spend their time making music, but more accurately, we spend our time hustling for gigs, so this time was a rare opportunity for me to forget about work, embrace my new environs, and have some fun.
Besides sports, my other passion is eating. Road food can kill, so my taste buds are as excited to get home as I am. After the tenth serving of airline food, my mind wanders to picturesque summer farm stands, wineries, fresh fish, juicy red tomatoes, butter-slathered corn on the cob, steamed lobster, grilled lobster, lobster rolls, lobster anything . . .
My best friend, well, really my only friend when I moved to Sag Harbor, was my golfing buddy Jim. Jim grew up in Sag Harbor, but remains as smitten with the East End as I, and takes none of the adventure or beauty of it for granted.
Jim’s a great athlete and an excellent eater, so we were destined to be pals. He was a waiter for years at the American Hotel, so knows fine cuisine and believes in making his friends gastronomically happy in an almost Zen-like way. This man orders food better than anyone I know.
“No, no! Don’t order that! You’ll like the sautéed crab legs better, but only after you start with the arugula, grilled portobello mushroom and blueberry salad with the walnut-infused, champagne vinaigrette. Let’s order the Montrachet. It would compliment everything perfectly.“
After three months on the road, an exchange like this can almost make me weep.
Our summer plan was to meet once a week for golf and dinner, with Jim taking me to various spots he’d loved as a kid to help me know my new home.
The day that stands out to me as absolutely perfect, started as our other golfing days did with Jim picking me up and describing the course to me on the drive to our spot of competition. I should add here, we’re both a bit competitive. OK, very competitive, but we’re friendly.
This particular day we played a beautiful course on the North Fork overlooking the Sound and afterwards decided on a little restaurant Jim knew on Shelter Island “with the best oysters you’ll ever eat”.
After the dark chocolate mouse crème freche raspberry parfait, we pondered our next move over espresso and a rare grappa served only at this particular haunt.
“You know, I used to play pool at a place near here. I wonder if it’s still open?”
“POOL? I love pool.”
I didn’t tell Jim that my big brother used to hustle pool when we were teens and occasionally take me along:
“Sure we can have a game, but I’m stuck with my little sister. Wait, I’ve got an idea! She can be my partner. She can’t play very well, but I’ll put up with it and she can be my handicap.”
I was 14, looked 11 and played like Minnesota Fats, so we made some serious money with this.
“Cool. Let’s find the place.”
“Now what?” I queried, after I’d had my way with Jim at the cowboy pool hall. “I wish there were another sport we could do.”
“There’s always the Whale’s Tale mini golf.” Jim rejoined. “The course is lit so they’re open late.”
Jim is taller, stronger, and younger than I, and well, a man, but other than that our competition is pretty equal. Still, mini golf is the great equalizer. This is a game that depends on finesse and control and the ability to hold back a giggle when aiming at a clown’s mouth. I was born for this.
I won’t take you through a blow by blow, but it was harrowing. Jim pulled in front, I pulled ahead, back and forth. It became a bit awkward as the place was mainly populated with kids and teens who couldn’t understand why two adults were obviously betting on every hole, taking their time, and GASP, aiming! We were holding things up a bit and a few parents were starting to comment. This was nothing compared to our finishing in a tie and Jim insisting on a dead heat.
“We can’t keep going, Jim. People are getting pissed off.”
“We’ll keep playing until one of us wins. I’ll have you in two. Let’s talk to the owner and tell him what we’re doing. I’m sure he’ll appreciate our commitment.”
“Jim, this is mini-golf.”
We were now on the 9th and continued playing through increasingly irritated families.
“Excuse us. We’re in a dead heat and just need to play one more hole”, Jim intoned, as if any of these kids understood “dead heat” or cared about anything other than our rudely butting in front of them.
“Jim, we really should stop. This is embarrassing.”
“Are you kidding? Where’s your competitive spirit?”
I perform for a living, so compete under pressure with ease, but infuriated moms glaring at me with clubs in their hands made me nervous.
Finally I faced the 10th, a dogleg left with a windmill straight ahead. With the fog rolling in, the fake grass was damp, so I planned on a slow roll, but was confident. If I could hit through the windmill on the right and bounce left, I might get a hole in one and end this.
“Mommy, what’s wrong with those two people? I saw them already play once and now they’re playing again.”
That was it. I flubbed the shot and have never really forgiven myself. I’m usually cool, but now realize an angry mother with a weapon and a whining child is my limit. I’m still hoping for a rematch.
After years away, Jim returned to Sag Harbor for a visit and took me to the American Hotel for a reunion dinner. I talked, he ordered, we ate, caught up and reminisced.
“You know Jim, someone asked me the other day to describe my fantasy of a perfect day and I told them I’d already lived my fantasy perfect day.”
“Funny you should say that, because I was just telling my wife about a “perfect day” from years ago. Do you remember that time we played golf on the North Fork, had those amazing oysters on Shelter Island, then shot pool at some cowboy dive and finally had that killer competition at the Whale’s Tale mini golf?”