Summer of ’77
J.G. Melon’s in Bridgehampton is buzzing—clattering dishes, jangly conversation, whirring fans overhead. My best friend, Katy, and I order gin and tonics at the long bar, happy to wait for a table, taking it all in. The bartender eyes us—we look young, but we’re eighteen, legal now. He slides the drinks over.
Eventually we get seated and open our menus, even though we know that one cheeseburger, split, plus one more drink, also split, is all we can afford. Halfway through our half-burgers, I notice the bus boy working the other side of the room. Tan with wavy brown hair, a dimple in his chin, an easy, confident walk. City kid, I think.
I rush Katy through the last bites and drag her over to the jukebox to be closer to the kitchen. He smiles at me each time he walks by and I smile back. On about the fifth pass, he stops. “You two out on the town?” I raise my voice over Jimmy Cliff’s “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and tell him we’re headed to the Talkhouse in Amagansett. He says he’s ready to knock off and will meet us there. I feel a flutter in my chest.
Two minutes later, Katy and I are pulling out in my family’s old Cutlass, when he appears on the other side of the lot, twirling his car keys. He unlocks the door of a shiny silver BMW. “He’s got one of those new 320i’s.” Katy whispers. “Haven’t you noticed they all have them?”
The Talkhouse—little more than a shack with a tiny dance floor and a few tables inside and on a back porch—is packed. We find him already at the bar (how did he get here before us?), drink in hand, wedged between a couple of nail-banger types. We officially introduce ourselves. He says his name is Drew. Drew Pressman.
“What are you drinking?” he asks.
“Sea Breezes,” I say.
“What’s a Sea Breeze?”
“Vodka, grapefruit, cranberry—”
“Oh, one of those.”
I sense the derision and ask him what he’s drinking.
“Vodka. You can’t get good champagne here. No Dom Perignon.”
He hands us our pink drinks and starts clearing a path out to the porch. Katy whispers in my ear. “Drew Pressman. Dom Perginon. Why don’t we call l him D.P. ?” Yes, I laugh. And so we do.
D.P. nabs a table, pulls a pack of Dunhill Reds and a silver lighter out of his shirt pocket, lights a cigarette, blows a few smoke rings. I know in my gut that he’s too smooth, but it’s his smoothness that’s attracting me. None of the local kids smoke Dunhills.
I take a few sips of my drink to bolster my rising insecurity. When he tells us his summer house is on West End, a narrow, sandy road of millionaires’ homes by the ocean, all I can think is, he’ll lose interest once he finds out that I live close to the railroad tracks, that my father isn’t rich or powerful, that I don’t own a BMW, let alone any car. But I can’t lie, so when he asks the inevitable—“Where’s your summer house?”—I say I live here year-round. I try to look straight at him but can feel my eyes slide off the side of his face. I decide to play my trump card and tell him I’m going to Princeton in September. He raises a brow. “Local girl goes Ivy.”
Katy pipes up, “I’m going to Smith.” No response. He’s clearly flirting with me. I ask him where he’s going to college. Turns out he’s got one more year of high school, though you’d never know from the way he operates. Before long he drains his drink, says he’s meeting up with friends, and asks for my number. I nervously fish around for a pen in my bag. “Just tell me,” he says. “I’ll remember.”
Two days later, he still hasn’t called. Katy and I are walking down Main Street in our white polyester maids’ uniforms, eating mint chocolate chip ice cream cones, and there he is, in his tennis whites, standing by his spotless car. My first instinct is to duck into the alley by the movie theater, but he sees us and waves, so what choice do we have but to go over?
“Hey you two, what’s up?” Is he smiling or smirking?
“Not much,” I say, mortified that my ice cream is starting to drip down my hand in the bright sun.
“What’s with the getup?”
“We, uh, just finished a job,” I say. “We have a business. Housecleaning and party help….” Silence. “It’s great,” I stumble on. “We get to make our own hours. You should see some of the houses we clean. Huge.” I realize his house is probably bigger than any of them.
“Plan on doing this as a career?” “Of course not,” I say. “It’s a summer job. You have one too. Remember?” “Touche´.” Suddenly he looks at his silver-link watch. “Shit. I’ve got a doubles game at four.” Hops in his car and does a U-turn, right there on Main Street.
A few weeks later, I’m waiting on the porch swing for D.P. to pick me up for dinner. We’ve been seeing each other—meeting at the Talkhouse or the beach. I know the inside of his car well. But he still hasn’t introduced to me to his friends. It’s as if he’s seeing me on the side. So when he asked me to join his family for his sister’s birthday at The Palm, I was so surprised, I didn’t think about the reality of it—dinner with the Pressmans.
I swing back and forth, watching my brother push the mower. I can see he’s missed a patch and think about going and telling him, but I don’t want to get cut grass all over my white espadrilles. A little before seven, D.P. pulls in and I jump in his car before he can come to the door, before my bohemian dad can make an appearance and some off-the-wall comment. As D.P. leans over to give me a kiss, I catch a whiff of his Gray Flannel cologne. He pats my thigh as if to say, it’ll be okay.
His family is seated at a long table, lobster bibs and claw-crackers at each place. His mother—small and elegant—comes over, smiling, lips closed. They’re thin lips, with a glimmer of gloss. “Glad you could join us,” she says, her eyes fastening on my right ear lobe. Can she tell my earrings are zircon?
D.P. and I sit at one end, his parents at the other. Halfway through the meal, his father—bushy-browed and jowly—booms down the table, “So you live in East Hampton? Whereabouts?”
“Uh, near town.” I feel my face flush.
“On which side of the highway?”
“The north side.” I sense things are not going to go well.
“Oh. So you live out here year round.” Is it a question or statement? Didn’t D.P. tell him?
“We moved from the city when I was in second grade.”
“Re-a-lly. So where do you folks go for a break in the winter?”
Go? I struggle to think. “Uh, we’re mostly here.” We’re always here, unless we visit my grandparents in Philly or take an occasional excursion to Manhattan for an art opening.
“What does your father do out here?” All eyes are on me.
“He’s a writer. He used to be a magazine editor, but…” What’s he written? Would I know it?”
I mumble, no, I doubt it, debating how to explain my father’s slim, esoteric novellas. Finally, D.P. comes to my aid. “Dad, give the girl a chance to eat!” They all laugh and the attention swerves off me. I manage a few bites of lobster before the cake comes out and D.P. nudges me to get up.
“Thank you so much,” I blurt out. “That was really fun.” Everyone’s too busy admiring the Tiffany earrings his sister’s just opened to hear me.
In the car I’m silent, staring out the window, thinking of all the comebacks I could’ve made. D.P. is silent too and keeps the motor running in my driveway—no kiss, just another pat on the leg. “Goodbye,” I say, closing the door on the familiar smell of new-car leather, and watch his taillights till they disappear.
Four months later, D.P. comes to tour Princeton with a friend and tracks me down. I’m selling hot dogs out of a trailer at a football game as part of a work-study scholarship. I’m sure my nose is red from the cold, but I don’t care. His tan has faded and he seems more ordinary in the gray November afternoon. Besides, I’m already thinking of other boys—the ones who will happily fold me into their lives, as I will them into mine.