Three Rights Make a Left
A fear of flying has caused me to wake in hysterics over vibrations from the slightest turbulence. I’ll look around and see if anyone noticed. But most people don’t react to mild turbulence. They ignore it. But to someone who’s afraid of flying, every bump is the beginning of the end. They don’t talk about it. You know. Up there.
My parents brought me to East Hampton the summer I was born. I was christened in the village proper in a long white dress meant to represent the upward mobility of our rags-to-riches family. The story goes that my Jewish grandmother was so horrified by my be-Christing that she splayed her body across the entrance to try and stop the ceremony. Was it St. Luke? Or the other one? Hard to say. As with most things in my life, the story is more folklore than fact. Not because it’s all that interesting or of any historical significance, but because the sources are about as reliable as your uncle’s diamond guy in midtown.
The first memory comes into focus sometime during a bath. In a sink. The sink is in Fran’s house. It wasn’t our house in the Hamptons, it was Fran’s house in the Hamptons. That we rented. My father calls her the Queen of all Bonackers, which sounds like an insult coming out of his mouth. But no one values authenticity more than a liar.
Next there’s a red Mercedes in the pool (My father drove it in after an argument with my mother). Green fire trucks. A bowling alley parking lot. And that left turn at Town Pond. That left turn is so significant in my mind that I find it shocking people don’t talk about it more. Perhaps they do. Perhaps they just don’t talk about it. You know. Out here.
The first hour is spent with the windows up. This is what a kid sees. Flashing orange lights out of the Midtown tunnel. Then endless highway until you slow and see caution signs on that first trickster left. You’re not there yet but the windows come down and one lane means it’s almost over. A windmill, The Candy Kitchen, and an eagle statue is your home stretch. Finally the sky blackens as you enter a tunnel of the biggest trees you’ve ever seen. You feel the car slow, your weight shifts to the right, the sun comes back in and that pond welcomes you with a bounce of cool air. The movie theatre is your driveway, because you are here.
There was camp with red shirts, horses and the beach. The Hampton’s Classic, sunsets on Peter’s Pond Lane and sudden sprinting dips into Louse Point. And then it was over. The horse was sold like a car, the car was fished out of the pool, and the marriage was over. And with the end of the Hamptons came the end of my childhood. The years after that flicker by without summers. I remember school but not what happens after June. I can’t tell you what I did all those summers that followed the East End but what I do know is that I didn’t spend them with my parents.
Until recently, I saw no value in childhood. I was an adult acting like a child. So this past March when my daughter was born, I decided I needed to go back to the beginning. Not consciously of course. In retrospect it seems more like the act of a child than a man to rent a summer house out of nostalgia. But nevertheless, here we are.
111 still feels like a new road and in sync with that fake-me-out left turn, the windows come down. I tell my wife, who’s in the back seat—
“This left always got me confused. I always thought we were there.”
She smiles and goes back to looking out the window. I thought about the next left coming up at Southampton. That one never got me confused because after you first get confused on 111 you are reminded of how dark it gets in the car when you are actually at the Real Left. The one lane feels good. Especially good because if you’ve ever taken a road trip with a three-month old then you know that a pogo stick can feel more efficient.
My wife’s experience of the Hamptons is a little different than mine. She came in her twenties and spent nights in Montauk and days at large rented pools where the owners were too busy to use them.
By the time we arrived at the Candy Kitchen, my new family had grown tired of hearing about the nuance of this upcoming directional change.
“You don’t understand. My whole childhood is in this left turn.”
“I feel really sorry for you,” she said.
And I laughed because up until that point I didn’t see it as something sad but as romantic. Like dying at twenty-seven, or drowning at sea.
“How is drowning at sea romantic?”
“You know, the ocean is so powerful. Man versus Nature. That whole thing. The Old Man And The Sea. It’s romantic.”
“Hemingway shot himself in the head.”
There’s a practicality that people with good parents have that people without, don’t. My wife had good parents. Nothing is more romantic to her than our child being loved. Nothing is more important to her than our family. I was under the impression that our family was very important but that also things that were romantic were important too. Like the Mets winning the World Series. Poverty being eliminated. The Iran nuclear deal. But if you have good parents those things are distant seconds to your nuclear family. If you’ve ever heard someone tout the “Charity begins at home” spiel, you can be almost certain they had good parents. She had good parents. They never fought (in front of her). They didn’t get divorced. They loved each other (apparently) until the day they died. The only-child-of-divorce in me says “YEAH RIGHT.” They died before they had a chance to get divorced. And it’s not fair that she gets to carry this idea of the perfect family into adulthood, unchallenged. This wholeness puts her in a position of authority when it comes to family matters and nothing ticks me off more. By the time we reach the eagle statue at the other end of Bridgehampton, we’ve stopped talking.
My wife has ruined this drive and in effect ruined the defining left turn of my life. We might as well just turn this car around and go home. My childhood sucks, this left turn sucks and the Hamptons sucks. If we really want to go to Citarella there are a couple on the way home. The silence in the car is distracting me from my plan to revolt. How do I get out of our summer lease? Is there a hotel in Barstow that I can afford? How can I really ruin this summer? And then at a certain point I reach the end of childishness. I mean you can only keep going so far before you explode into a pile of Jujubes.
A car up ahead puts its left turn signal on and we come to a stop in front of a construction site. From the back seat my wife says,
“Aw, they knocked down the Bowling Alley.”
Great. We missed the ceremony to commemorate its closing. Surely people cried when the wrecking ball hit those storied lanes and now my daughter will grow up never having experienced bowling in East Hampton. It looks like her childhood is going to suck, too!
We ride on with my left fast approaching and something familiar begins to happen. Darkness. Followed by bumps resembling turbulence. The car stops and my daughter jolts in hysterics. She looks around to see if anyone felt it and we had. She’s just started to coo so every sound out of her mouth is as exciting as a moon landing and I started to feel silly. I felt silly for caring about a bowling alley I hadn’t been to in thirty years. I felt silly for talking about a left turn out of the context of navigation. I felt silly for having an imaginary conversation with my landlords. And for booking that run-down motel in my mind’s Barstow. I felt silly for caring about anything other than what was in my car.
The light turns green and my daughter’s weight shifts right as the sun floods in. She smiles at the sun or she smiles at the pond or she smiles because she pooped. And it is the most significant Left of her life because it is the very moment when her father grew up. I will tell her that when I was a kid those speed bumps weren’t there but now they’re there to wake you up. To stop you from driving into the pond.