Crazy About the Hamptons
“Are you crazy or something? He’ll never move full-time to the Hamptons! He’s a city boy – cement runs through his veins!”
And they were right. I was a city boy. “Made in Brooklyn” is etched under my feet just like the soles of a fine pair of shoes. If that isn’t enough to satisfy you, for over forty years I lived in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and, for fifteen of those years, I also occupied a house in London, a city which, by all accounts, has more bricks and paving stones than even New York City.
More importantly, when I was in my twenties, if I had to spend my summers on a beach, my preferred choice was Fire Island, where I rented a house for many years. Besides everything else, like in London and New York City, you didn’t need a car on Fire Island — at least where I lived. In the Hamptons everyone is forbidden to walk anywhere.
So what made me change my mind? Well, it started eight years ago with an invitation from one of my sisters to spend Christmas at her house out in the Hamptons. Before she even got the last syllable of the word “Hamptons” off her tongue I was yelling: “Why the hell would I ever want to do that when I have homes in two of the greatest cities in the world that are both loaded down with Christmas decorations and also offered a gazillion things to do during the holiday season?”
I don’t mean to sound cruel, but here I am, a writer whose own favorite poem starts off with “Christmas rides a city bus peering out at the shop windows…!” Well, once I had finished my diatribe, my sister said in a quiet voice: “Our whole family will be there. When was the last time you spent a full holiday with all of them?!”
As memories of childhood Christmases filled my head, I became putty in her hands and agreed to come. To my surprise, my partner — also a devout city boy — thought the idea sounded great.
So off we went on the LIRR with our heads filled with visions of snow–covered houses and horse-drawn sleigh, as found in the Barbara Stanwyck holiday classic “Christmas in Connecticut.” When we arrived, to our surprise, it was so warm that we found ourselves taking walks on the beach and at night standing on the back porch under more bright stars in the heavens than any ever seen on a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
Was there a divine plan in motion? Sure, it was great being with the entire family but we’ve always been together on Christmas Eve, which was our Italian tradition. But something felt different that Christmas night, not only for me, but also for my partner.
We were both at that sort of retirement age; he was a film editor who enjoyed painting on the side, and I drifted through various Wall Street positions to subsidize my writing habit. Sure we had always dreamed that one day we would relinquish our so called day jobs and devote ourselves fully to our passions. Only one piece of the puzzle was still open for discussion: New York City or London?
I was leaning towards London, his native ground, where we had a townhouse with a small enclosed rear garden, but he saw the future more in a Brooklyn brownstone with substantial front and back gardens. This caused a problem for me. I loved Brooklyn and constantly told everyone I met that I came from there, which was no great surprise once I opened my mouth.
But like the old saying goes, “You can never go back!” And every time the subject of our future domicile came up, I’d make a preemptive strike saying: “Would you settle for a big Manhattan apartment with a terrace?” And around and around the conversation would go — a conversation that never moved forward.
Getting back to that that warm Christmas night out on my sister’s back porch we began yet another of those “Where will we settle?” tête-à-têtes, but this one was different because within minutes we agreed that our future, whatever it might be, would begin once we moved lock, stock and barrel to the Hamptons.
By St. Patrick’s Day, the New York apartment was already on the market and we were on a plane heading for London to put the house there up for sale. By mid-August we were moving into our new home out here in the Hamptons with lots and lots of planting potential. Who was I kidding thinking he would have settled for a terraced Manhattan apartment?
Before I knew it, we were taking vigorous walks every morning on the beach, planting, and most perplexing of all, I was enjoying mowing the grass. Out went all thoughts of the city – either city — or the lives we had led there, and soon I was back at my computer writing and he was off in his studio painting.
Before long I had published two books of poetry and a Christmas memoir, as well as doing poetry readings up and down the Island. As for my partner — by the way his name is Peter Beston — he’s been exhibiting his work at various galleries out here and one of his paintings, “Restless,” found its way onto the cover of Dan’s Paper. Now, what could be better than that?!
The truth is we never really retired and are still working very hard, but somehow the definition of the word “work” has changed and so has the word “accomplishment.” It’s a nice feeling knowing our lives are no longer hooked on selling a painting or producing a play. It now rests in the personal satisfaction that an artist’s task has been completed to one’s own satisfaction, which allows us to enjoy every minute we work at our crafts.
How quickly our world changed! We now own a car which we fill with plants; we are both involved in local community activities; and every night before going off to bed, we go outside in rain, snow, or mosquito-humidity to count the stars. Sometimes, it is hard to believe that this dynamic change in our lives and work habits would not bother us, but it never seems to. To think all we wanted was a terrace apartment. And all of a sudden we came to look at a house and Peter, who always loved gardening, entered by way of the front door, flew out the back door and disappeared into the wilderness. And all I did was just stand there thinking I had stepped into the movie “Old Yeller!”
I must confess that after nearly seven years, I still don’t know the names of plants or trees, and, as far as the birds are concerned, I know approximately the same number of names of birds and plants as I do the number of colors one would find in your basic Crayola Crayon box. To my credit, I do know the difference between a squirrel and a turtle, and that also goes for bunnies, groundhogs and deer, but, I must admit, they all still seem Disneyesque to me and that sense of wonder I hope I never lose.
As to going back into the City or flying off to London, we go when we must, and when we do we’re happy that the constant blood-sucking craving to say we’ve seen this or that, or have eaten here or there, has finally gone from banter without the need of putting a stake through our hearts. Sure I miss the noise of the traffic. I always found it a good way to invigorate the soul, but, then, waking to the sound of birds and not the honking of horns has made a big difference in how I spend my day.
I suspect, as I mentioned before, that also goes for stepping outside onto our front path just before going off to bed to take a peek at a star-lit sky, stars that I could see clearly because they’re not overwhelmed by city lights.
I remember the snowy January after we moved in. It was shortly after midnight and we went out in our bedroom slippers walking on the hardened snow to look up at what I believe was the most incredible full moon that I ever saw. It was so bright that I ran and fetched a camera so Peter and I could take pictures with the use of a flash.
The next morning, I awoke so excited that I not only wrote a poem about the experience, but also put together a playlist of more than one hundred moon-related songs which we still play to remind us of that wandering midnight stroll held in the glow of that full January moon! Yeah, this Brooklyn boy is crazy about the Hamptons and grateful to be living here!