No Small Consolation
It wasn’t my day. I don’t know whose day it was, but it wasn’t mine.
It was the Tuesday after Labor Day. Alex and I woke early to play tennis before the sun hatched its primal heat and before he left for the season. We were excited to be playing for fun instead of the ‘customer tennis’ that we had been paid to play every day since Memorial Day weekend. Tennis for hire.
Wagering that the other courts would remain empty we broke dress code and played shirtless. Although anxiously watching for someone to arrive unannounced, it felt good to flout the dress code briefly.
Lunch was my treat and Alex suggested Tutto Il Giorno. Looking forward to a relaxing meal at the restaurant we’d heard so much about, we arrived to a hand-written note in the window:
“Summer Hours Over.”
Bad news for me. I’d skipped breakfast and a gnawing hunger drew a thick carpet of dark clouds over my previously sunny disposition.
I needed to find food.
Flip-flops smacking our heels we rounded Jobs Lane and headed down an eerily quiet Main Street only to discover 75 Main hermetically sealed.
“Jesus. Where is everybody?”
“Must be at the beach.”
“Yeah. Beautiful day.”
Ambling along the sidewalk suddenly felt taboo. Like we had stumbled upon a movie set and everyone was waiting in the wings for the director to call “action.”
Alex and I wove like drunken sailors – his equilibrium compromised by a delayed onset of juvenile delinquency – and mine from starvation. Alex began shouting at the top of his lungs.
“Who’s town is this?” he asked rhetorically.
“Our town,” I replied weakly.
“Please, just stop. Please…”
Thankfully Cheese Shoppe was open and we placed our order rediscovering our ‘indoor voices.’ As we ate our sandwiches Alex and I calmed down a bit before he eventually took off. I sat in silence and enjoyed my first moments of solitude since late May.
I had been waiting all summer for a chance to go to the beach. I drove down Gin Lane looking for the perfect spot. Parking with a lurch on a sleepy patch of asphalt, I trudged up the loose sandy path with my Sponge Bob Squarepants beach towel and Noam Chomsky Reader.
The sharp wind was cool despite the sun-baked and sea salt encrusted sand. Hot on the top and cool underneath the crunchy exterior it was like walking through crème brulee. Approaching the beach from the natural blind of sand dunes I was eager to see kites flying, surfers surfing, sunbathers sunbathing.
Nobody was on the beach. No colorful beach umbrellas, or bronzed ladies in sunhats or dads with hairy backs or spidery children building sandcastles.
I sat on my towel and attempted to read, but I couldn’t concentrate. There was no one around for distraction so I couldn’t focus. Feeling disappointed in myself for having missed an essential element of a Hamptons summer, I began to sulk.
In the distance a white haired old man in a Van Gogh straw hat and black suspenders was walking with his dog. Spotting me, they both turned and went the other way. I wondered if he was really there or if he was a vision of my future self.
I made a mental note to think more positively.
I swam in the ocean, cold as a beer and just as refreshing. The ancient grey-brown face of the water was tough. It curled and released quickly like a circus strong man lifting a sledgehammer. I stood near the shore and mindlessly let the waves pound over me.
I left, bits of sand and seaweed crumbling from my body; the seats and floorboards of my car littered with the souvenirs of an East End summer that might have been.
I slowed to a crawl when I saw it.
I approached the historic Halsey House at a tortoise’s pace, thinking it was a practical joke – or some lingering vestige of witchcraft.
As if a spell had been cast on both sides of the street the maple and oak trees were in the process of becoming dishabille – and just for me.
I pulled over, ogling their state of undress, a towering row of vestal virgins performing their ablutions, disrobing for an uncommonly early bedtime. Their leaves, pooling like robes around their feet, dropped easily – five, six, seven at a time – raining down in loosely synchronized rhythm.
Perhaps the trees collectively knew that their work was done, intuitively knowing to pack it in for the season.
Acknowledging the families and summer revelers that had departed taking their summery expectations with them, there was nothing more for the leaves to do, no longer a reason to cling. No more appearances to keep up. No need for propriety.
I didn’t linger long, already feeling that I’d crashed a private event, witnessed a secret ritual. I left them as tortoise-like as I’d arrived.