East End Affairs
In late October of 1973, I would return to Montauk after six long months of travel to say goodbye to the friends I made there over a lifetime of summers. I longed for our all-night talks, beach days and endless laughter. But as I rounded the bend into town and the ocean came into view, I knew it was Montauk itself, I truly longed for. Its memories were already an integral part of my being.
While I was away, I met and fell in love with a scuba instructor on the island of Jamaica. I made plans to return there in November, bound for San Francisco to make a life together.
My visit to Montauk would change all that.
While hitting the local haunts on the very first night I met another man who sang at a popular bar. We were instantly attracted. Before long I would find myself in a quandary and have to decide if I would stay in New York or head back to the islands.
During that time, my new love interest was asked to play a private party in the recently relocated windmill up on the cliffs just east of Ditch Plains for the new owner, a famed photographer. Back then, the estates up there were pulsing with pretty people and I was excited to see what the evening would bring. It did not disappoint. We brought along my brother and a friend and the four of us set out toward the Point. As we veered off onto the mile long, black dark drive to the house, deer appeared at every turn. The density of the wet salt air and thundering of the Atlantic out in the distance acted as our only navigation till the lights in the secluded haven finally came into view. As I stepped from the car, I inhaled a deep breath of Montauk.
I can still smell the ocean seeping through the pine planks of the old place socked in the heavy autumn fog on that mystic night. The infamous witch from the Amagansett Farmers Market hung from the rafters. Amber lighting filtered through the rooms already thick with glittering guests from all walks, chatting and laughing. The atmosphere was euphoric but I was not star struck. Back then, Montauk was still cool and locals respected people’s anonymity; an unspoken code. Anyway, I had gotten used to seeing prominent people out there. Working all the local establishments all summer, every summer, we saw them all. So, when one of folk music’s heroes stood on line in front of you at Herbs Market, you didn’t tell him how much you loved ” The Boxer”, you let him buy his sandwich and go his way.
On that fall night in the two-story windmill, my new boyfriend played his set drowned out by the kinetic commotion that buzzed through the house. Drinks and seafood flowed and the punch was rumored to be spiked with halucnigents. There were some heavy hitters present and it was fun to be a fly on the wall. I exchanged a few words with a princess inside a doorway as an actress I recognized from “Midnight Cowboy” bumped by me. Gathered round the fireplace were the host, a literary giant, a pop art icon, and popular talk show host turned local. In the mix were models, well known Hampton’s artists and a sea of other prestigious party goers. We danced all night long as the party ate and drank itself into the wee hours. I wish remembered more of that night but my memory fogged after a certain hour and I can’t say that I even remember leaving. It is the nuances that have remained.
But, my fascination with the landmark began long before that night, and long before it evolved. As a little girl, I called it Rhienstien’s castle. It was a fixture in my childhood memories, sitting high on Sandpiper Hill above a stretch of beach overlooking “Ditch ”, where I walked countless times and passed on the “Dummy House Road” to town. I often dreamt what it would be like to see the world from up there.
Each year, I watched the house grow dangerously closer to the edge of the eroding cliff and then sadly go up for sale. A friend of mine was caretaking the property then and showing it for a prominent realtor. He told me Dylan (my idol) had even looked at it. He invited me up. It would be the first time I would see the inside. It was a simple, rustic structure not much altered since the day it was built. It had a sauna and wonderful great room in the lower level exuding a distinct air of East End charm from the shingles to the stone fireplace. But the library up top was the real money spot. Licking my wounds from an unrequited love, we hung out up there as I cried the blues over a bottle of wine and fell asleep in the center that magical room.
I awoke alone at dawn to a silent house. The open windows brought the ocean inside. The breakers pounded below. Sopping salt air and musty leather bindings permeated. From high above the shore the vast coastline stretched endlessly below. As I watched the sunrise far out to the east, its power seemed to shrink my silly sorrows and I could feel myself moving gently away from my heart break. I tip toed quietly out of the house and made my way to the narrow beach path and walked the wide shoreline home. Strangely transformed and invigorated, I acquired a clarity I had not felt for months.
I would stay through winter that year in a rental up off Second House Road. Winters in Montauk then, were not for the faint at heart. I lasted till March and then then headed back to my family home up island where my mother would pass, just weeks later. Grief stricken, I headed out to journey cross-country with a friend.
We would weave in and out of the U.S. and Canada, then down the coast into Mexico, and then on to the Caribbean. I made peace with my mother’s death during long hours of speechless travel in the in the deserts of the Southwest. I fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. I watched the landscape move by me changing from cities to plains, to mountains, canyons and painted deserts. Through deep forests came ocean vistas. Then finally, just the hum of the small Toyota tires stretching north on the hot pavement . One day in late fall of 1973, I arrived back to where my story began.
As fate would have it, a Dear John letter was sent off to Jamaica and the musician and I would be married by the following November. What I know now, that I didn’t know then was that my decision to stay had not been solely based upon my love triangle but another attachment ingrained in me from the time I was a girl. One that once helped me from heartbreak, and one still capable of restoring my faith in the world. I understand now, that all those walks down Ditch, a revelation from a second story window and a jaunt up a long dark road one fated fall night, all played a hand in my destiny. In all my travels then and since, no one place has affected me as this one has. All those years ago, it very simply, called me home.
Today, the windmill is no more than a memory. Destined for ruin, it was lost to fire in 1977. Its parties much like the one we attended decades ago, will forever hold a place in East End folklore. Obviously, Dylan never came. He felt the cliffs were too dangerous for his young children (or so the story goes). But, in 1975 the Rolling Stones would, officially putting Montauk on the map. They could be heard rehearsing from up on the cliffs, nearby the now exclusive trailer park, once my simple summer home.
Currently, with the onset of Montauk madness, there is no longer a code of any kind. The town is crammed with those draining what’s left of “Montauk cool”. It appears the whole world is having an affair with the now legendary locale. But my affairs, born of three poignant stages in my life, have persevered. In them, I see the wonder of a girl, the dreams of an adolescent and my coming of age, all culminate in this one extraordinary spot. When the sun rises to the east, it lights the sea a million jewels fold. And as it sets the stars are brighter and bolder than any I’ve yet to see, bringing heaven that much closer. My decision is yet sound.
Traces of what once was rush over the cliffs in whispers. They beg and call. They remind me, that romance comes and goes but true love, just as the ocean, is constant.