Crossing the Shinnecock
“Are you serious? There’s traffic out east? It’s 11:30 on a Tuesday morning!” It was a bright but chilly day in February and I was off from school for the President’s week break. I was headed out to the animal shelter where I volunteer – LI Kitties – and I was running late. Traffic was backed up all the way from the William Floyd well past the exit for the shelter. As I inched my way east, a cop was standing alongside the shoulder when I rolled down my car window and shouted, “Officer, is there an accident?” “Nah, a dump truck overturned a ways up…spilled manure all over the road. No one’s getting anywhere for a bit, can’t even cross the Shinnecock.” And with that one phrase, I was thrust back to the summer of 1995 – the summer that irrevocably changed my life.
In the beginning of that summer, I was out of college for one year, working in my first “real” job in Manhattan at a mid-size book publisher. The fabulous, fast-paced, exciting world of Manhattan came to an end when I trudged uptown to Penn Station and took the 5:38 back home to Huntington. I hadn’t traveled anywhere exotic, experienced anything exciting, or met anyone compelling. I knew I had to shake things up. On the night of June 2nd, Anita and I headed over to Laura’s house. We were going to shake things up. The plan was to go to a bar in Port Jeff for drinks. When we arrived at Laura’s, another girl suggested we head out to Hampton Bays. She heard of a new club that opened, Dublin Over, and supposedly it was amazing. We jumped in the car and headed east.
After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at Dublin’s. Nestled next to the Shinnecock Canal, the club appeared from the outside to be a hole in the wall, a run down shack. The windows were all open because there was minimal air conditioning, the shingles were falling off the front and it didn’t appear that there was a front door. It. Was. Perfect. I was so happy to be out at a fun, new spot and not at the same townie bar, staring at the same broken foosball table I stared at every Friday night. As we pulled into the parking lot, Laura squealed “Holy shit! Look at the line to get in!” I turned and looked out the car window and the line for the club weaved down past the front of the building and coiled up around the parking lot. Great, I thought. It’s going to be midnight before we even get in and get a drink!
The seven of us had been waiting on line for about ten minutes when I saw two of the bouncers walk slowly down the line, critiquing each person as they walked by. As they reached us one with a tribal tattoo wrapped around his bicep and underneath it a cringe-worthy, grammatically incorrect “This to shall pass” grabbed my hand and asked me how many were with me. I squeaked out 7, fearing that the number was too high. He asked me “any guys with you?” I shook my head no. “You and your friends can come with me, baby.” He pulled me out of the line and I whipped my head around to make sure all the ladies were with me. As we were lead into the bar, I could hear the jealous grumbling of the girls still on line as they impatiently tapped their Steven Madden platform sandals. Yes! We were in!
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” As I made my way through the opening that I assumed was the door, Aretha was blasting from the DJ booth. The dance floor was packed and there was a faint odor of burning marshmallows. I turned to Anita and said, “Do you smell marshmallows?” Before I even finished saying marshmallows, the DJ hit the smoke machine and puffs of smoke rose into the air. Through the fog, I could see that there were two huge bars running down the length of each wall. I yelled to Laura over the music, “let’s get drinks!” Laura and Anita made their way to the bar and I followed closely behind. As they gave the bartender our drink orders, I was looking around the club to see who was there. As I turned to my left and looked down the bar, I saw him. He was gorgeous. He was tall, had dark blond hair that was cut short in the back and longer on top. He was wearing khaki shorts and a white tee shirt…and he was staring at me.
“My blood runs cold, my memory has just been sold, angel in a centerfold, angel in a centerfold…” “HELLO! What do you want to drink?” Laura was shouting at me over the J. Giles Band but I didn’t hear what she said. “WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DRINK???” “Oh, right. Get me a Coors Light.” I looked back to see if the blond was still there and he was. He had looked away but as I was staring at him, he looked back at me. He smiled. It was a million dollar smile. His entire face lit up, his eyes squinted into the shape of almonds and I could see bright white teeth through the burnt marshmallow fog. I smiled and nervously looked away. The girls had our drinks and everyone wanted to head outside. The lack of air conditioning made it as sweltering as Georgia in August. As I walked to the other side of the bar and headed to the back deck, I casually looked back to see if he was still watching me. He wasn’t. He was laughing with his two friends who were sitting at the bar and he playfully punched one in the arm. That’s it, I thought. I blew my chance. He’s not interested.
“Once upon a midnight dreary, I woke with something in my head, I couldn’t escape the memory of a phone call and of what you said”…an hour later, and after a few cocktails, we found ourselves dancing to Blues Traveler on the dance floor. I forgot about the blond. I hadn’t seen him since we first arrived and I figured he left. As I maneuvered myself under the one working air conditioning vent, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around; it was him! He was dancing with his friends and was smiling that million-dollar smile. “Hi”, he said. “Hi.” “What’s your name,” he shouted over the music. “I’m Jen. What’s yours?” “I’m Tim.” As he spoke and his eyes turned that almond shape, I noticed he looked really young. Too young, I thought. Is this guy even out of college? As that thought raced through my mind, Laura tugged on my shirt. “Wanna ‘nother drink?” “Yeah, definitely. Get me another Coors Light.” I turned back to Tim. “Something wrong?”, he asked. “No…but I’m wondering how old you are.” “I’m 23”, he said. “No way”, I screeched back over the music. “You are not 23!” He pulled out his driver’s license: July 7th, 1971. “Holy shit you are 23!” He laughed and said, “Yeah, I have a baby face. My last name’s Gerber, like the baby food.” I laughed. “Can I get you a drink”, he asked. “Sure.”
Four hours later, I found myself standing with Tim next to Anita’s car that was parked parallel to the Shinnecock Canal. We watched as hammered Hamptonites filed out of Dublin’s and into idling taxis. “So what are you doing next Friday?”, he asked. “Um, not sure yet.” “Well how about we meet back here? It’d be cool to hang out again.” “Okay, I said, yeah that would be good.” As we made plans to meet up again the following Friday, he was shuffling his feet in the dirt. Leaning against the car, we were holding hands but looking at the ground. He was rubbing the tops of my fingers with his thumbs. “So can I kiss you?” I shook my head gently yes and he slid his hands up to the sides of my face. Cupping my face in his hands, he gently kissed me; his lips were wet and his breath smelled like beer. He then rested one hand on the back of my neck and the other on the small of my back. We kissed for what felt like an eternity.
For the rest of the summer, we went to Dublin’s, split chicken tenders at Friendly’s and sat in the lifeguard chairs at Jones Beach, listening to bands playing in the theater. We would go on to drive across the country, camp in Northern California and gamble in Las Vegas, but I would never forget the magic of that first summer spent next to the Shinnecock Canal.