Hither Hills

Written By: Bruce  Nalepinski

The tent was illuminated by the hissing Coleman lantern and two burner stove heating up the coffee. I was a little stoned after smoking a joint down by the ocean with one of the lifeguards.
Paul said “ You can stay in the lifeguard tent if you want, the other three guys don’t sleep here.”
Terry was married and rented a sweet little adobe cottage on the Old Highway. Eric had a girlfriend and usually stayed at her place. Luke, also known as Streams, lived in a tent across Montauk Highway from the park with his dog Scout.We were all in our mid twenties and trying our best to avoid growing up.

It was the last two weeks of August before the Rockefeller drug law was going to go into effect, on Labor Day. I had been invited by an old college friend to stay in his guest tent at Hither Hills.
He was the State Park Cop, Michael. I was kind of burned out from working for five years at Channel 13 in New York and being married and having a child and being in the Army National Guard. I felt pushed and pulled, Channel 13 was the liberal voice of New York and the National Guard was the other thing. The Vietnam war had ended and I didn’t see the point of being in the reserves anymore and being told to get a haircut by people I didn’t know , so I walked out of Summer Camp in Fort Drum and quit. I took some time off from Channel 13. I told my wife I needed a break and I think she needed a break from me. So off to Montauk I went in my vw beetle. I first stayed in the pup tent, but after a few days Michael needed it for a relative coming out for a weekend. I started going back and forth between the pup tent and lifeguard tent. The lifeguard tent was huge with 4 beds and felt like an apartment. In those days Hither Hills was mostly tent campers with the winnebago crowd parked in a far corner of the park. I realized that Michael didn’t have much of a relationship with the lifeguards and I thought I could remedy that.

Paul had long hair and looked like James Taylor in his Sweet Baby James period farmer overalls included. Eric was blonde Nordic god looking at about six foot three and Terry was the intellectual well read son of a diplomat who had lived all over the world. Streams was the spiritual seeker with a ponytail who had been adopted with his twin sister. Don’t get me wrong, they were all physical specimens who could swim like sharks and save people in the demanding surf of the Park.

And then there was me. Looking to steal a little of anyones good qualities to find my own identity. Since I did have a job in public television, I became the de – facto film maker of record during those two weeks. I had a little super 8 camera and started to document (or hide behind)
the camera to make my contribution to the new friendships I was forming.

Going to sleep the first night in the lifeguard tent, I was lulled by the crashing waves 50 feet away over the dunes. The salt air was different and refreshing with only a little thin canvas between me and the ocean breeze. I started to dream that my life could have meaning and be new again.

The days were dictated by the weather and food. Sunny days meant sitting out by the lifeguard stand and goofing on people in the park. Stormy days meant the possibility of surf and rescues and some good waves to ride. Heading back to the tent to make lunch was ritual. The sun felt good and changed my skin and I felt healthier. Terry would always bring up some writer like Anais Ninn and I would nod in agreement, wondering who that was. He was kind though and didn’t call me on any of my cluelessness. Eric spent his time testing his limits and literally pushed until something broke. One day he came out of the surf a bloody mess and the other lifeguards just looked at him. I ran over to help and looked back and they were all laughing and nonplussed. I started to realize that they were mostly in a different state of consciousness than I was. This was happening everywhere as the drug culture proceeded through the 70’s. Streams asked me if I was friends with Michael the cop. I explained that we went to college together and he was the reason I was in the park.Michael looked like a cop. I explained that he wasn’t a cop, cop, but he was just acting like a cop.

That night, Michael asked me if I wanted to take acid with him, but then he would have to go on patrol. We tripped for awhile down by the waves in the dark, then he said, “You can come along in the patrol car if you like.” We left Hither Hills and he floored it taking us out to the Montauk Lighthouse in the fog. The lighthouse has never looked as beautiful as that night in the fog 40 years ago.

Streams talked of going to Bear River, Nova Scotia to buy land and build a cabin with his girlfriend Joanie after the season ended. Terry was going to write the great american novel but in the mean time started building driftwood tables to sell locally. Eric was going to drive a step van to Merida, Mexico, fill it with coconut heads and hammocks and start a surf shop. Paul was decking out his vw microbus for a winter in Colorado. He was looking for spiritual guidance. We all read BE HERE NOW by Ram Dass. We talked about Buddism and he told me one night,” I thought you were my guru, a trendy thing at the time. I told him that I thought he was my guru. That ended that.

On Labor Day, I bought the Daily News with the headline “Rockefeller Drug Law Goes Into Effect” in New York. I took a shot of it with my super 8 and went to the beach. All the lifeguards were high and the park was going through a mass exodus of campers. We spent the day filming what we thought were profound images and the summer came to an end.

Paul and Eric got busted for minor drug charges that fall and had to stick around for a wrist slap from the local judge and a decent lawyers fee evaporated their summer earnings.

Streams went to Nova Scotia and had a baby, Sky, for a total cost of $11.00.He and his new family left after one winter and he went to California, made $2 million dollars on the Northridge earthquake reconstruction and now lives a spiritual life on the side of a volcano on Maui. Terry went on to become an extraordinary woodworker, building fine kitchens for celebrities in the Hamptons. Bruce started his surf shop got rich and moved to a farm in Kauii. Paul went on to a career in raising shellfish and for years created life in the form of millions of clams and oysters to be seeded into the waters of the East End.. Michael the cop became a lawyer and now lives on a golf course in North Carolina.

As for me, I moved us lock stock and barrel to the East End as a home base and pursued feature film work. A few years later, I was standing in Central Park, saying the word “Action” to Dustin Hoffman so he could run out to 5th Avenue and Director Bob Bentons camera for the movie “Kramer vs Kramer”. The movie won 8 Academy Awards.

Yes the super 8 film was made and every so often we have a reunion and all stare at the images of us at Hither Hills 40 years ago, amazing.