“I’m spending next week in the Hamptons. Do you want to come?”, my host Tim asked me.
It was late summer 1988 and I had been in New York for less than a week. Tim was the friend of a friend of a friend and my only contact in the city after the women I was supposed to stay with had bailed on me the night before.
“I don’t know Tim”, I should be looking for work”, I said thinking of my finite dollars. “You can do that when we get back. It’s just a week”, Tim said.
Tim lived in an airy three-bed in Chelsea with two other Brits. I was so green to the city I didn’t know what an anomaly his apartment was. But I did know I was truly comfortable on his sofa. It was an effort for me to get off it in the morning. No movie can prepare you for the sheer hubris of Manhattan buildings. And I felt deadened by them, not exhilarated. I knew I should be reading someone like Philip Roth, but instead pulled “Far from the Madding Crowd” from a book shelf, and found myself longing for market towns in Dorset. I felt completely unequal to the energy required of my new surroundings. So opting out, when I barely had a foot in, began to make a whole lot of sense, “Sure”, I said, “I’ll come”.
Late the next night we drew up to a cedar shingled farmhouse in East Hampton. Unlike fenced and walled England, it’s front lawn stretched invitingly open to the road. The front door was framed by two hydrangea trees with upwardly focused white tubular heads. Nothing like the fat pink and blue hydrangea heads that populated country cottage England..
We entered the house and I groped for a light. “Don’t”, Tim hissed. He trod lightly round the ground floor. “It’s full”, he said, “you can sleep in my room”.I wasn’t exactly happy about this. I had no romantic interest in Tim. He was a pink-toned, flaxen-haired upper crusty Brit. Not the natural hero of my American adventure. But he had been generous with his sofa.. And he was affable – the kind of man who extended a gin and tonic as you entered his apartment. He also appeared to have a pretty Korean girlfriend, who had crept by the sofa a couple of times late at night, and left again in the early morning. I wasn’t worried.
I pulled down the white jacquard bed spread on the left side of the bed and positioned myself as close to the edge as possible. “Thanks for bringing me here Tim. Sleep well!”. “A goodnight hug?”, he asked. It seemed churlish, even presumptuous, to say no. But sure enough he soon leaned over me to plant a wet one. I pulled away, back to the edge. Undeterred Tim, crept to my side, spooning me. “Tim, no!”, I said. “I’m still in love with my ex!” It was true, but it was weak, and we both knew it. He began to stroke my hair. “Nice hair”, he said thickly. “Tim, this isn’t going to happen”, I said. I wanted to get up and find somewhere else to sleep but I had idea where the lights were and who else was in the house. Tim backed away, and we reached a kind of truce. But, seemingly in his sleep, he repeatedly attempted to grope me.
I slept uneasily in twenty minute snatches ready to pry away Tim’s hand, which meant my dreams, when they came, were odder than usual. One, still vivid, these many years later, involved a grotesque swollen penis, that split into four parts and fanned out like a banana skin.
I got up early, angry with Tim and with myself, ready to extricate myself as soon as possible. I made strong tea in the white tiled kitchen, which I offered to other young occupants as they wandered in, bushy haired and unfazed. The air was heavy with the scent of ripe peaches from a tree in the garden, and someone put on Suzanne Vega’s lovely “Tom’s Diner”, which I’d never heard before. Tim himself emerged smiling and untroubled. “Would you mind helping me count the china that’s still intact”, he asked sweetly. And In fact, it was soothing to sort the chipped from the not. I found it impossible to stay angry.
I moved myself into a room occupied by a fine-boned youth called Gray which had a spare twin bed.
In the afternoon we went to pick up Max’s girlfriend, Jane, from the train station. “Don’t let her know that Max is leaving the US in a month”, Tim said as her train pulled in.
Jane was pretty in the exact way you wanted to pretty in the late 80s. She had long curly brown and evenly toned honey-colored skin. She had the kind of slim body that looked good in the to-the-knee leggings that we all aspired to wear at the time There was an art to her perfectly unstudied look, but I didn’t know it then. Her face was open and appealing. She was the first American I had met since coming to New York, and I warmed to her immediately.
“Do you like him?”, she asked quietly in the back of Tim’s jeep. “I can tell he likes you”. “No!”, I told her of my night, which made us both giggle. When we reached the house,Max pulled her into a room. Presumably he was worried that learning of his imminent departure might curb her desire.
Jane emerged looking as fresh as before. “Let’s go shopping for food”, she said. None of the boys knew how to cook. I didn’t either, but I made a decision there and then that I would be a good cook. Luckily Jane knew what she was doing and together we marinated chicken in olive oil, soy sauce and garlic and made a salad of corn, avocado and ripe farm stand tomatoes. Even today, Jane doesn’t know that that was the first meal I had ever made.
The Brits all returned to England, but I stayed in New York and grew to love the East End. I took away two things from that first weekend in the Hamptons. I did become a good cook. And Jane and I became lifelong friends.