Many years ago I was sitting in Amagansett town with a friend who had a summer job at a boutique clothing store called, “The King’s Mistress.” Long gone.
It was Friday, July 4th weekend. We sat outside on the store’s front porch, watching with amusement, and perhaps some horror, the line of cars filtering into town along 27 east. The year 1982. It was the first major influx of cars we had ever seen. The “Hamptons” had been let out of the bag, there was no turning back. Beach grass and sand lots surrounding summer homes eventually gave way to manicured lawns and hedges requiring a small brigade of landscapers to descend with weed whackers and leaf blowers firmly in hand. Since then traffic snaking along 27 from village-to-village has become ubiquitous in the summer months.
When I wasn’t pouring endless amounts of quarters into the Asteroids and Pac-Man video games at Mellow Mouth, an ice cream shop that once sat in Amagansett’s village green, I was pulling down a full time summer job at the Amagansett Farmers Market for Pat and Brendan Struck.
Back then, the Hampton Jitney was still relatively new, the Stephen Talkhouse was still a “swingers” bar, and the term “groupies” described a large number of young people renting a home for the summer. Some things haven’t changed. Back then life was simple, rotary and touch tone phones were all the rage, and everyone had a 516 area code.
Behind the Farmers Market was a large cooler truck that housed every herb, lettuce and leafy green imaginable. Mint, cilantro, watercress, emanating a sweet vibrant smell of all things luscious. There was also the regular appearance of celebrities. My all-time favorite was Lauren Bacall. Ms. Bacall would usually have a large amount of groceries, and would need assistance bringing them out to her car, a big green station wagon with faux beige wood side paneling. Pat Struck, who called me “Lee,” would call out to me to help Ms. Bacall. I liked the fact that Pat called me Lee, to me it had a friendly nickname worker-dude appeal. Every time I performed this chore Ms. Bacall would hand me five dollars, a small fortune for a young teenager. I was always tempted to ask her about Bogie, but as locals we don’t cross that line, and it’s probably why celebrities enjoy coming out here, they’re left alone for the most part.
I’ve seen Paul McCartney several times over the years. One time in particular was at the Amagansett library, he was just feet from me, and all I really wanted to say was, “Hey, Ringo!” But of course I didn’t.
At the start of each summer, the sea water warms, giving off a salty brine that flows off the ocean, it is intoxicating and ephemeral. Life, at its core, is a connection of memories, a thread that runs through all of our lives. The specifics of everyday life are often lost, but certain memories last a lifetime. Your first love, that summer job as a teenager, a bonfire on the beach with friends laughing, and, if the night took a different course, a little midnight skinning dipping under the delight of a voyeuristic moon, and universe.
Not long ago I came across the word “Topophilia” from the Greek, meaning “love of place.” Summer transients come and go, but we all know that feeling of a day at the beach, getting some sun on our bodies, enjoying a great meal of fresh seafood and a glass of cold crisp white wine. Mythology scholar Joseph Campbell, who was interviewed by Bill Moyers many years ago for his book, The Power of Myth, called such places “Bliss Stations.”
Tag that along with the meaning of the name “Amagansett,” an old Native American Indian word meaning “place of good water,” and we begin to understand why this small strip of land at the eastern tip of Long Island has become that “bliss station” for many of us.
As a child, I would make a point of leaving my parents’ home early in the morning to go watch the sun rise. On my first encounter there was a pale moon fading just overhead as the sun rose above the eyelid of the earth. It is one of those memories I will never forget, a thread.
In the end, it is family and friends that we share these times with. It is fleeting for all of us; one of life’s most existential conflicts. Often times, as I walk along the beach, I think about those Native American Indians, who once brought harvest from land and sea, and British and Dutch tall ships in full sail that once flowed on by. We all look for a connection, a place that nourishes our collective souls, a place, no matter how temporary, where we can unwind and are not human doings, but rather human beings, in our moment, free.
The bonfires of youth eventually fade and are buried below layers of hurricane swept sand and dune. We learn, we wither, we return vacant to the soil, but for now this is ours, to hold, to nurture, and yes to selfishly enjoy the summer in our own way. We are connected to those who have enjoyed this land before us, and prior to “going gently into that good night,” we all hope that this place will be embraced by those coming up behind us. Topophilia, found.