I’m sitting with my girlfriend Amita and another couple, her friends, in Della Femina’s in East Hampton. Though I grew up in Hicksville, where I watched the Long Island Expressway being built practically through my backyard, this is my first time in the Hamptons, Amita having insisted that I rent a house in Amagansett Dunes for a couple weeks. It’s nice being by the beach, but then there’s the nightly hoopla, dinners in fancy places at the season’s height.
“Bill plays tennis?” Amita asks Miranda about her boyfriend, a guy on whom, unlike me, a sport jacket hangs well. Bill smiles.
“You play too,” Amita says to me, knowing that I’m a good tennis player, but apparently not understanding, despite my little wince, that I don’t want to go where this is heading, which is playing with someone of unknown ability.
“Take Jed to the club,” Miranda energetically instructs Bill, ignoring the fact that, unlike golf, a game essentially played with oneself, tennis is played with someone else, the consequence being that tennis, like sex, requires partners with commonality, tennis’ being ability.
Bill and I make plans for tomorrow when, for two tortuous hours, I feel like the Lab assigned to retrieve his widely-dispersed balls.
Heading back from tennis, I’m convincing myself not to end this relationship, though I’m no longer enjoying it. You’re throwing away another attractive, intelligent, decent woman, I think. When you’re lining up the first kiss you already have the break-up in sight. You picky, intolerant, untrusting, poor excuse for a human being. You wouldn’t know what you wanted even if it was as impassioned for you as Frieda Kahlo was for Diego Rivera, wrote paeans to you like Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning, obsessed over you like Anais Nin over Henry Miller, sung your praises as exuberantly as the North Korean Presidential Glee Club.
But it isn’t all bad. This relationship with Amita has lasted six months, the longest since the 23 years with my now-ex. That gives me some hope. And now at least I’ll be able to utter that boyfriend-qualifying phrase: “I just got out of a long relationship.”
I decide to take what in AA they’d call a “mini-geographic.” I call Amita to say I’m taking a few hours for myself, then tool on alone, skipping the turn for Bluff Road, heading east, away from Amagansett, towards I don’t know what.
Several miles of stunted pines and dune-lined highway later, I turn onto a road called Old Montauk Highway. Writhing laterally with the coastline and vertically over bluffs the ocean’s carved from cliffs, I’m riding the edge of an ocean intermittently visible at heights, the road flattening out by a stretch of motels with names like The Briny Breeze and The Beach Plum, cryogenically-frozen hostels from my 1950’s youth when nirvana was a Howard Johnson’s with a pool.
I reach a town called Montauk, bumper stickers pronouncing it “The End,” the next landmass due east apparently being Lisbon. Montauk looks like it’s been under some kind of scatter-brained, century-long, intermittent development. Main Street pierces a quarter-mile wide circular road that serves no apparent purpose; it’s lined only here and there with stores and topped, on the north, by a building completely anomalous as to both style (quasi-Tudor)and height (eight stories). The south side of the arc contains “Chicken Seafood,” “Fudge,” “Gifts” and other outposts of the “call-it-what-it-is” chain of stores. On Main Street’s protruding ends, there are opposing luncheonettes, a hardware and a liquor store, real estate brokers, three gas stations, a potato chip-oriented supermarket, and miniature golf under a swinging plastic pirate.
Smitten, reluctantly, I return to Amagansett.
We’re back in the city and Amita and I have dinner plans with more of her friends. My cell rings.
“Me and my friends are coming into the city tonight to hear a band at Radio City,” the youngest of my three daughter says. “We come into Grand Central. Can you help us get there? And after?”
I’m so excited to be asked to help that I practically yell “yes,” though I know I have some logistics to deal with.
“And it ends. . .?”
“I’ll call you.”
“Da-a-a-d. It’s a concert.”
I offer to attend dinner subject to excusing myself when my daughter calls. We settle on Amita going alone.
The next morning Amita doesn’t pick up the phone. That’s unusual; she usually acts like I’m the White House calling. I walk by her building. Though I have keys and permission to go up, I ask the doorman to ring first.
“She’s busy,” he says, putting down the intercom, his voice tinged with a “seen um cum seen um go” sneer acknowledging my reduction in rank.
“Are you okay?” I ask when she answers my cell.
“I don’t want to see you.”
“Leave my keys with the doorman.”
“Is someone up there?”
“No,” she laughs. “You’re scared of your kids. You’ll never cross them.”
“Okay,” I say, sighing because this is so much easier then explaining why it’s relieving unclipping her keys.
To staunch any unanticipated gloom, I decamp for Amagansett. I rent the same house for an additional couple of weeks, planning to spend time with my dog Kobi, the flat walk to the ocean being a relief for this old Malamute’s rusting joints. The house also just might lure out my kids.
I reluctantly put myself on Match.com. Not hearing from anyone, I switch my zip code from 10024 to Amagansett’s 11954 and, suddenly, I’m awash in women who “love the beach” and want to come out.
“Ride out okay?” I ask Carole, a designer. Well put together, her face, like mine, which I recently saw with my reading glasses on, shows her age.
Lunch and a beach walk, and we’re showering for what Carole’s treating me to: dinner at a Bridgehampton restaurant hosting a lecture by a courtroom sketch artist peddling his new book. It’s like eating watching TV when there’s nothing on.
Back home, she becomes the first in a trio of women who, unsolicited, effectively deliver what only those with a certain laissez faire attitude, and a lot of a certain type of life experience can. Like the two who follow her, the next morning, my spoken gratitude in hand, she leaves.
Though I feel like a jerk, I also feel strangely, moronically satisfied by this, like I’m on R&R between tours of duty in the relationship wars, or I’m repeating a phase I should have completed as an adolescent but was too stoned and drunk to. Also, I’m hoping that, in finally spending time, however superficially, with women my own age, I’m redirecting myself, the experience fulfilling my grandmother’s adage that nothing in life goes wasted.
For additional diversion, one afternoon I find my way back to Montauk where I enter the real estate office nearest to where I park.
“Whaa can I do for you,” bellows a large woman.
“What’s the story with this one? ’Hither Hills Exclusive,’” I ask, pointing to a photo in the window. “Sounds like a mental institution.”
“A community by the ocean. But the house is a little strange,” she offers.
Arriving, she says what the house’s appearance suggests; that it was built by a poor architect for himself. It’s on a tiny parcel. Due to the parcel’s steep slope, the front door, though two floors above the foundation, is level with the road, hence the sagging, aerial walkway we’re on. There are huge, multi-pane factory windows all over that must have come cheap, and the house is wrapped in warping 4 x 8 sheets of old siding. Essentially a box on a small, 25 x 25 footprint, it’s tall, offering, I’m guessing, a squirrel’s eye view into the heavily encroaching canopy.
Stepping lightly to avoid destabilizing the walkway, we enter a place that, like my world these days, doesn’t have even one thing right; not one right angle, no room shaped predictably, nothing expected. As we climb the flights connecting its six floors, levels spinning off like treads on circular stairs, she explains that the house was last inhabited by an elderly lesbian couple.
“They say it’s falling off,” she warns as I open the sliding door to a three-story high deck. Seeing light between the deck and the house, I step back. Craning to see through the trees, I catch a glimpse of blue that just might be ocean.
A few offers and counteroffers later and the accountant bargaining for the dead owner and I have a deal, the only wrinkle being that he’s utterly without authority. The owner died possessing a girlfriend, a house and heaps of ugly vintage furniture but, apparently, no will. Her sister, who can sign, is thought to be living in Egypt. Eight months later, with major help from International FedEx, I close.
\Now, six years later, I’m living with a newly-rescued Malamute in Montauk full-time, not drinking, not fishing, not surfing, rarely looking back and almost never eating out.