I’m facing the open armpit of a man built like a champion surfer. His forearms are thick and he flexes his bicep every time the train jerks. It bulges exposing veins that look as angry as their owner. I try not to focus on anything in particular, but the six o’clock LIRR to Montauk is filled to the brim. Everyone seemed to have had the same idea: get out of the city on July 3rd. There are no empty spaces or peeling paint, no snarky ads, just people, their luggage and the hope the train gets us all to the Hamptons for Fourth of July.
I envy the couple of girls on my right who were tenacious enough to run up and grab the seats. I was too slow or too accommodating and got stuck in the step well. It wouldn’t have been so bad had I charged my phone the night before. I imagined she would have already called, leaving voicemail after voicemail; three would no doubt be about how excited she is to see me, followed by a worried one and an angry voicemail claiming I was screening her calls and wishing I wouldn’t even come anymore. I didn’t want to come in the first place. I had never been, but I hated the Hamptons.
“There isn’t anything better than fourth of July in the city,” I tell her, “we can go to the cloisters and see them fire out over Jersey or we can go down to Coney; spend the day at the beach and see them there.”
I see her in my head and she stares intensely at me. “If I wanted to go to the beach to watch fireworks I’d just have to step out of my house and walk a couple of blocks. I’d go to a beach where the water isn’t murky or brown and I don’t have to worry about swimming and crashing into condom or an old doll or any of the other trash I find.”
Of course I gave in and the tawny dirty blonde in front of me catches me sighing. “This train is crazy of year.” She says trying to balance herself.
“I just hope it isn’t like this going back.”
The rest of the ride sees a couple of people get off but it never really empties out in the way the subway does past 86th street. I manage to get a seat and just as quickly offer it to the lobster red mother in the muumuu. By the way she pants and the two kids wrapped around her wide legs I can’t justify taking it. The stops roll by and soon enough I am at the Hampton Bays Station. I get off and smell the air and am elated to not find it congested by exhaust. The train rumbles pass fading off towards Montauk and I stand there just listening to the quiet. I tense, “this is how horror movies begin,” I say out loud expecting some masked slasher to approach. But no, after a while she pulls up and I run towards her, excited and looking forward to the rest of the night.
“We just have to pick up some burgers and buns for tomorrow.” She says and we pull into the lot.
“What’s King Kullen?”
“It’s like Costco. You don’t have those in the city?” she says. I don’t even answer. We grab the cart, the burgers, the buns and the beers.
“I would have expected a mad dash you know? Like lines stretched out from the cashier to frozen meats.” I say.
“I guess everyone is just prepared or goes somewhere else.”
The cashier is an older woman, with looser skin, and deep bags under her eyes. Long hours or motherhood or both have probably sucked the rose from her cheeks and what were once chubby and vibrant and kind now dropped the way jowls do on a basset hound. She gives me the once over and catches me staring, her eyes scream at me, “what are you looking at?” but in a scratchy voice she just asks me for ID.
“It’s for the beers,” she says, keeping her gaze focused on me. “I’ll need to see her I.D. too.”
I hand it over. She gives mine a harder look, squinting at my picture and then bending the card. She bags our groceries and then hands the I.D.’s back to us. I take the bags in hand and she gives me a side eye as I walk out. I load everything into the car and head over to the passenger side.
We make it back to her place and her parents have already set up the pool. The clouds overhead look the kind of foreboding gray you read about in the bible when you know everything is going to get washed away. Still the pool is ready and her parents are stepping out. I haven’t been in water in two years, so I sink more than I swim. It isn’t long before I give up on that in favor of dinner.
“My friends are in town. They want to get together. They want to go out.” She says between chews of the steak she burned but is determined to eat.
“Yeah, where do they want to go?” I ask
“Oh, I’m not really sure but there are a couple of places around here we usually go to. Then there are place in Bridgehampton or South Hampton we can go to. I really would like to take you to Sag Harbor. It’s my favorite town. It looks like a post card town and the stores are really nice. But there aren’t too many places to party at in that town. Like I said I still don’t know.”
I lie and tell her, “That sounds like fun. I’m excited lets shower and head out.”
She smiles giddily and slices a piece of my steak off for herself.
We headed out at around nine. She didn’t say what the crowd would be like but first impressions have taught me to dress for the occasion. Her friends picked us up I introduced myself hoping to log each of their names as best as I could. I figured if I knew the name of the girl she speaks to the most and knew by face who was the designated driver, I could stand a chance tonight. She chatted it up with them and I chimed in as best as I could. I felt boxer looking for an opening where I can stick but it proved to be a champion bout. The conversation turned into a rehashing of high school days and remember-that-times that I have no way to relate to. Every so often my girl taps me and tells me that we passed this town or that town. It was too dark and after a while I lost excitement. It all became road lined with darkness and I started to miss my city.
The spot they decide on looks like a house on the outside; a huge house but a house to me.
“It’s called Public house. It’s really nice on the inside.” Her friend tells me.
We stand on line and I look around. I see the Brooks Brothers, the J. Crew crowd, I count the fancy cars and I tense. I’m dreading the line, hoping the bouncer yells that they have reach capacity before we get there. MY wish almost comes through as a tall boy with a couple of girls pushes right past us.. My girl sucked her teeth. I pretended to groan with her and complain that we wouldn’t get in.
But suddenly the huge black bouncer pushes the kid aside. “These are fake son. You can’t come up in here with these. It ain’t going to happen.”
“But my dad-,” The kid begins to say before the bouncer pushes him aside. He lets us in and I glance over at the boy dialing his cell phone.
To my elation we didn’t stay too long. We ended downing four rounds of drinks. My girl and I were dropped at her place a little past three a.m., and she suggested walking over to the beach.
“Come on. You’ve never see the sun come up on water have you?”
I followed her down the road, tripping over rocks and twigs and jumping over every sound I heard.
“Are those actually animals out?” I asked.
“Yeah, and if you look up, you might actually see stars.”
I smiled, “I’ve seen stars before.” I
felt the road grow sandy and pointing to a dark blue sky twinkling with silver she pointed saying, “not like this.”
We drank in the late night while the clouds above grew to cover the sky. The sun tried to peek through clouds to chase the night away. It would rain though; no fireworks on the fourth this year. Yet still I sat, the breeze off the beach was being enough.