End Games

Written By: Martin H.  Levinson

The east end is lousy with artists. Painters, sculptors, photographers, and printmakers dot the landscape literally and figuratively along both forks. In the summer, art openings abound from Riverhead to Montauk and there are lots of showings in the offseason at east end galleries and museums.

I go to many of these art events with my wife, who is an east end artist specializing in fine art photography. Kathy is also a west end artist, as we have a domicile in Queens where she does work. Artwise, my better half has both ends covered.

We own a house in Riverside that we bought five years ago when our Queens apartment building was undergoing large-scale renovations that were noisy, dusty, and depressing with dark green scaffolding and ugly black netting über alles. To maintain our physical and mental health while the fixes were going on we repaired to the east end on weekends and found the area with its natural beauty, abundance of fine dining, and pristine walking trails much to our liking. So we acquired a second home in an over-fifty-five community that had a spacious yard, an attractive interior, and a connected garage that my wife converted into a photography studio.

From the nonce, Kathy loved living on the east end. The vegetation and wildlife brought back memories of her halcyon days of youth in Eugene, Oregon, and she liked not having to ride a subway to get around. She also liked taking photos of the native flora and fauna, which she did 24/7 with time off for meals and an occasional conversation with a spouse who was a bit out of his element.

I have lived in New York City all my life and when we moved to Riverside I was sixty-five years old and fairly set in my ways. I enjoyed walking to restaurants, seeing people on the streets, and having the world at my doorstep. Living on an everyday basis with my wife in the country, where Kathy wanted to spend the majority of her time taking pictures and communing with nature, would be a big readjustment for me.

When the town of Southampton gave their final nod to Kathy’s garage-studio conversion my helpmate hit the beach running, joining arts organizations, displaying her photographs at outdoor art fairs and indoor art exhibits, and becoming part of the arts scene in the Hamptons. I was the designated “shlepper” who dutifully drove his wife and her artwork to places where both could be seen and the latter could be purchased and hung on a wall.

At the beginning of my apprenticeship as an art deliveryman, I took pleasure in learning about the ins and outs of art contests, how one negotiates with galleries, and ways to best show one’s work. I found it interesting to talk to artists about their creations, dealers about their ideas for marketing art, and curators about how art should be shown. But something was missing in my interactions with the art world and that something was finding interests of my own to be involved with on the east end.

In 2004, I retired from the New York City Department of Education after thirty-five years of work as a teacher, counselor, and administrator. It was not a planned retirement but a health-preserving one, as Ed Department execs, in an effort to force people to leave the system, rejiggered the job I was holding to make it next to impossible to do. Rather than die with my boots on at employment that would provide me no satisfaction and make me into a nervous wreck, I chose to pack it in and leave the field of education. But I did not go gently into that good night of superannuation. I was bitter and confused about what had happened and what my next steps would be.

After a few months of compulsive television watching, escaping into crossword puzzles, mindless internet surfing, and feeling sorry for myself, I decided to take some courses at the UFT Si Beagle Learning Center for Retired Teachers in Rego Park, Queens, and found I enjoyed being a student. Some time later I began teaching at the Center and discovered I liked that even more. I also joined a Queens writers group where I was able to get critiques on poems and essays I had begun to work on. It seemed there was life post retirement but you had to fashion it yourself. The question was could I fashion it on the east end of Suffolk County.

I started slowly with a lecture-offer to the Rogers Memorial Library in Southampton on what it was like to be a baby boomer growing up in Brooklyn during the 1950s. Happily for me, the offer was accepted and I delivered my talk to forty-five people either from Brooklyn or with BK connections (given six degrees of separation, that’s just about everybody on the planet) on a warm summer day in June. The lecture went well, with no tomatoes thrown and a spirited discussion at the end of my talk, which prompted me to seek other east end libraries to present at. I also researched and developed additional talks on topics of historical and social interest that I could speak about.

To keep my writing mojo going, and to get feedback on my literary efforts, I joined the Westhampton Library Writers Group, a collection of writers that gets together weekly during the year to review each other’s work. Members of the Westhampton writers group are smart and supportive and being in their company helped me to improve my writing and gave me a chance to socialize with people who shared an affection for the written word. I also attended meetings of a writers’ group sponsored by the Riverhead Free Library and took part in poetry readings that were held at the Blue Duck Bakery in Riverhead and at poetry readings in venues further out east.

The eminent philosopher-scientist Sir Francis Bacon famously said, “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” It seemed to me I was doing okay in the reading and writing departments on the east end but was somewhat deficient in the “conference” category. To remedy that deficiency I signed up and participated at meetings of a history book club that met at the Hampton Bays Public Library, a foreign policy discussion group that got together at the Quogue Library, and brunch confabs sponsored by the Southampton Town Democratic Club.

My gray cells got a good workout from all the cerebral activities they were being exposed to on the eastern end of Long Island and I started to feel, like my photography-obsessed partner, that I should be spending more time in a locality that has beaches, mansions, vineyards, and loads of opportunities for learning and intellectual growth. The west end, with its proximity to Manhattan and everything that New York City has to offer is certainly a fine place to live for those who desire mental stimulation. But I have found there are lots of mind-expanding programs and events on the east end that can tickle one’s cortex. And the lobster rolls and sweet corn are to die for.