All Points East
Imagine you’re underwater. You’re suspended in total relaxation where the noise from the outside world can’t penetrate and air bubbles dance around you sparkling golden in the sunlight before bursting on the surface like a shimmering glass of champagne. That’s what a summer feels like on the eastern shores of Long Island. And all of my summers begin at The End.
My therapist once told me that, “The good things in life are hard to get.” Kind of like that last broken Pringle at the bottom of the can, the perfect summer body, or finding a seat on the 1:40pm train out to Montauk on a Friday. That’s how my summer started—waiting on the Jamaica platform for the eastbound train to arrive. The first animated moments felt like a marriage between the slow and steady ascent up a roller coaster and the rush at a concert right before the headliner steps on stage. There was a whole kaleidoscopic mob of commuters dressed in Polo and Lilly Pulitzer, Jerseys and college sportswear. They wore Ray-Bans, baseball caps, and sunblock. Slung from their shoulders were leather tote bags from Louis Vuitton and canvas Boat and Tote bags from LL Bean. I saw shopping bags, garbage bags, and bags cradling animals in them.
We came from the four corners of the world, connected by the same understanding that across the carved entrance-ways of that alloy train was a place full of enchantment and vacant of stress: a point on the end of the line resting upon the eastern-most frontier of Long Island, eyeing the great blue divide that is the Atlantic Ocean. I’m talking about the Hamptons. I’m talking about Montauk. I’m talking about the farthest trail from worry and the closest dock to comfort.
But before all that, back on the platform in Queens, everyone shared the same immediate need—claiming a place to sit for the next two to three hours. Rogue travelers forged their way through the gripped sweaty palms of starry-eyed lovers while hordes of flip-flops smacked the cement in harmony with the clickety-clack of heels that tortured their owner’s feet. Once the train pulled up, it quickly turned into the last half hour of the movie Titanic. Excitement turned into panic. Cheerful noise turned into a disturbing commotion. And all those bags turned into weapons. The courtesy of women and children first seemed no longer to apply.
I found my seat on the floor, perched on my luggage and sandwiched between a Pomeranian shoved inside a backpack and somebody’s crotch. I felt like a hot pocket. I was restless, staring at the pleats of this stranger’s pants, repeating the mantra that it would all be worth it once I was out there. Out there being The End, most commonly known as Montauk, named for its geographic location draped on the fringe of the island. From the looks of it, things appeared to be nearing The End for this Pomeranian who was now lost under a pile of suitcases.
Getting off the train was just as tough as getting on it, but let’s skip that part and jump ahead because there was food at my house and it was past five o’clock which meant the drinking hour had already begun (I didn’t have the presence of mind to bring booze on the train like the rest of my fellow survivors).
My little sister picked me up from the station in our Jeep. By this time, the rest of my family had already courted the Wolffer Estate Rosé, which coursed through my household like a rising tide. And so, my little sister and I dashed across the horizon on winding roads surrounded by sand dunes. The briny air spitting out from the ocean welcomed us like an old friend. I was back to the place I had dreamed about all year long, while the trees had turned colors and the snow came and went. Now the setting sun soaked the sky with broad lazy strokes of pink and orange.
When we arrived at the house the air smelled of jasmine, honeysuckle, and burnt cedar. Our home is a nice cottage styled one tucked away on a quiet road (quiet being a relative term since our address also doubles as a nightclub for my sisters and restaurant for my dad).
My sister threw the car in park and the Fellas came racing out with ears flopping, tails wagging, slobber sailing. My folks have a Bloodhound who thinks he’s a Yorkshire Terrier and a Golden Retriever who thinks he’s a Bloodhound. I tackled the Bloodhound while the Golden went on a search and rescue mission in the woods; or maybe it was an excavation digging up pieces of eight left behind by the notorious pirate, Captain Kidd. Whatever the case, he always came back with the same thing— a tennis ball in his mouth. With the dogs in tow, my sister and I headed for the house where the music was bouncing off every wall and fixture. The house was rarely absent of music and the volume was always turned up. Not the annoying neighbor kind of loud, but loud enough that you had to ask the person next to you to repeat themselves. Sometimes we guys got lucky and played our musical preference, usually nostalgic Rock ‘n’ Roll tunes from the 60’s and 70’s. But mostly (because we men were outnumbered three to two) the radio dial was set to a popular station that played the same summer pop song on repeat, a song which at first listen made you want to boogie, but by the end of summer, crawled into your bed at night and haunted your dreams. Even so, when the grill turned on and the water on the stove began to boil, we were always greeted by the smooth familiar voice of Ol’ Blue Eyes, otherwise known as Frankie Boy. I can still picture my grandparents twirling in the kitchen. That fantastic slow rhythmic waltz timed with the snapping of fingers in their terry cloth sweatshirts and sweeping grins.
Everyone was in the backyard with a cocktail in hand, clustered around the fire pit near the pool. My mom and older sister held champagne flutes (just a splash of Chambord in my mom’s glass making it pink); my brother-in-law sipped a margarita on the rocks, adorned with coconut shavings; my dad held a martini straight up with a lemon twist; and my little sister was already retreating to the kitchen to swig from the tequila bottle while no one was looking (I’d like to note that my little sister is twenty-one. I’d also like to note that I am omitting my beautiful girlfriend from this story because it would require more words than assigned to sufficiently describe how wonderful she is). Out by the fire pit, I grabbed a Montauk Summer Ale and asked my dad the only words that mattered, “What’s for dinner?”
For most people, Friday means the start of their weekend. For people on the east end, Friday means the East Hampton Farmers Market held at the Nick & Toni’s parking lot. Here’s what was on the menu: an assortment of Cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy. Their fresh ricotta replaced the butter on our dinner table, just waiting to be swiped up by the perfect utensil— a hot slice of sourdough bread from the folks at the Blue Duck Bakery Café. Now, my family knows I have an aversion to mushrooms of any kind, which makes me a persona non grata in my household, so they devised a menu that would pacify my hostility toward the funny looking things. The helpful vendor from Open Minded Organics, or as my mom affectionately calls him The Mushroom Guy, suggested a mushroom pizza (pizza being my favorite meal). Here’s how to make it: sauté the shiitakes in red wine with chopped onion. Lather the pizza dough (ours is from Astro’s Pizza in Amagansett) with Worcestershire, dress it with your caramelized veggies, and cover it with grated Swiss cheese. What materializes from the oven is a puffy, char crusted, blistering culinary marvel that’s as tasty as it is aromatic. I quickly became a converted mushroom junkie.
That dinner, that weekend, that wild-west commute east, was the perfect kick-off to summer. The next three months we would spend sun soaked and salty as we fed our bellies with local offerings and nurtured our spirits with good company and old stories. So you see now why all of my life I’ve been drawn to that spot on Long Island where the embers burn just as bright on bonfire nights. These summers have been branded into my memory like grains of sand on unwashed feet and they will travel with me wherever I go.