Weekend on the North Fork

Written By: Linda Hellofs

Even with high temperatures forecasted to reach the mid nineties, there was no chance Tom or Greg would cancel their July 4th trip to the North Fork. This year would be their 36th annual expedition to the Sinclair’s family cottage – a tradition started when they were Seventh Grade locker partners at Middle School in Ithaca, New York. Although time and circumstances had separated them geographically – Tom stayed in Ithaca, ran his family’s sporting goods business and lived three blocks from where he grew up, while Greg had started his own technology consulting business in Silicon Valley – their bond remained close. They knew each other better than they knew their own brothers. Tom counted on Greg’s colorful war stories about trying to direct the wiz kids in their high flying tech start-ups, his silly plays on words and his even sillier escapades with his latest round of girlfriends. On the other hand, Greg knew he could expect Tom’s easygoing manner, quick laughter, dry wit and refusal to eat anything that swims. They played off each other like an expert doubles team whose rhythm was disrupted only by the occasional awkward rapport with their female counterparts.

Tom’s wife, Mary Ann, was a retired high school English teacher who had served as the Teachers’ Union representative for the last two decades of her career. Greg used to say she was a professional “saver”, proudly espousing her support for Save the Children, Save the Spotted Owl, Save Our Right To Choose, and Save The Whatever. Tom, as strong a conservative as his wife was a liberal, chose to stay clear of any politically charged discussions and focus on the attributes he loved about his wife. And there were many. Maybe that explains how they had remained married for over 40 years.

They listened to country music and talked about their grandchildren on the 5 ½ hour drive from Ithaca to Cutchogue. The Sinclair family cottage had started off as a modest 800 square foot single story – back when the boys were young – but after each one of Greg’s successful IPOs, an addition or improvement had been made. The sprawling interior now resembled the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino in New Jersey; there was no surface un-mirrored, un-gilded or not faux marbled. Mary Ann disliked excess and marveled at Greg’s bad taste, or perhaps, lack of taste – she could never decide.

But taste in interiors only scratched the surface of what Mary Ann disapproved of about Greg. Starting with she didn’t think it was fair that she and Tom always did most of the work. They arrived first and “set up camp” according to Greg’s detailed requests. Greg would email lists of specific items that he would have ordered and paid for and then it was up to Tom to crisscross Suffolk County to pick everything up from the various local farms and vendors: fresh chickens from Browder’s in Mattituck, strawberry rhubarb pie from Briarmere Farms in Riverhead, fresh oysters from Bauer’s, cinnamon donuts from Wickam’s, and organic corn from Sang Lee in Cutchogue. Then Greg would arrive, calling 15 minutes out, so Tom could be at the end of the driveway with a cold beer when Greg rolled up in his latest car. Tom didn’t care, or at least never showed that he cared, that Greg worked under the assumption that since he made the most money, his time was worth more than anyone else’s. When Mary Ann would mention the unfairness, Tom would simply retort, “That’s just Greg. Ignore it.” But Mary Ann couldn’t. Still she couldn’t deny Tom seemed twenty years younger around Greg.

“Hey, Mary Ann,” Greg called out from the back door, “I got you something. It’s in the Tesla.” Mary Ann glanced over and saw a large cardboard box on the backseat of the car. She reluctantly walked over to the car and lifted the box onto the back deck. Inside were dozens of illegal fireworks –mortars, huge Roman candles and several other kinds of explosives that Mary Ann did not recognize. Greg laughed heartily at Mary Ann’s clearly piqued expression, obviously anticipating it.
“Those are for tonight. Meredith is going to miss them – she had a case go sideways and cannot get up here until tomorrow mid-morning. But trust me, she and I will create our own fireworks tomorrow night. She has a body like a Victoria Secret angel and she hates wearing clothes. How about some margaritas?”
With his Shiner Bock still three quarters full, Greg began setting up the Margarita machine on a table on the deck. Holding one of the salted rim glasses high in the air he hollered to the people on a boat moored at a neighboring dock, “Wondering what the poor folks are doin’?” Mortified, Mary Ann took her book inside.

Later that evening Greg fired up the barbeque and grilled Kobe steaks, preening “Perfect, charred outside, pink inside, I just got lucky again, I guess.” Greg could cook. His first wife could not cook, so out of self-preservation and “for the good of the children”, he had taught himself. But, at least according to Mary Ann, meals were part of the carefully choreographed Greg Sinclair Show. “He tells you what to eat, cooks it and then waits for the applause.”
As he waited for Tom to finish his plate, Greg reached into the duffel bag and unfurled a Confederate flag. Mary Ann cringed, wondering how could any human being hold such a vile symbol.
Tom had bits of steak stuck in the spaces between his teeth, “Hey, Pal, didn’t they just make flying those illegal?”
Jack grinned. “I bought it online before the damn government makes selling them against the law too. My great great-grandpa was a colonel in the Confederate Army. He believed in states rights and gave his life to protect those rights. Everyone is so bloody afraid of saying something that could be perceived as racist. We run away from the facts.”
Sensing he was steering the evening into dangerous territory – more as a result of having seen the horrified expression on Mary Ann’s face, rather than having an astute sensitivity to the reaction of others – Greg segued “And speaking of facts – guess what we are having for dessert?”

Greg served Tom and himself generous snifters of cognac alongside two hefty pieces of cheesecake. After refilling his snifter, Greg brought the box of fireworks out to the beach.
Mary Ann whispered to Tom, “He is in no shape to be doing this. Don’t you be going helping him and getting yourself hurt.”
Greg fumbled to set the largest of the Roman candles on the uneven sand.
Tom yelled, “Set it on the rock beside you. It’s more even.”
Greg grinned at his friend. He placed the explosive on the flat top of the rock and lit the fuse. As Greg clicked the lighter and stumbled, knocking the firework at an angle pointing directly at the neighbor’s boat’s canvas top canopy. Tom rushed to help but it was too late.
As the Roman candle took off for the boat, Tom bellowed, “This might not end well !”.
He and Greg fell into a heap on the sand. The bright yellow and orange sparks from the Roman candle arced 60 feet in the air, illuminating the midnight blue night sky, and landed in the water a few feet past the boat’s stern. Laughing convulsively, Tom and Greg staggered arm-in-arm up the stairs. “How ‘bout a night cap, Buddy?”, Greg stammered.

The next morning Greg was up early coking his famous “Daddycakes”, melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk pancakes.
Tom, ever the peacemaker asked, ”When do we get to meet Meredith?”
Greg’s broad smile brightened as he replied, “she’s coming private at 9:30am.”
Mary Ann’s mind went immediately to the hideous carbon footprint of the flight.
Greg continued, “She flies her own helicopter and is going to land at Gabreski .”

About 30 minutes later Greg headed out to pick up his girlfriend. After finishing the dishes and giving the living room a quick once-over, Mary Ann declared, “Tom, this is absolutely the last time I will spend a weekend with someone who holds those kind of archaic views. On top of everything else he is a racist.”
Tom focused on rearranging the food in the overflowing refrigerator and tried to think of a way to change the subject.
But Mary Ann was not easily deterred, “I have always known the type of man Greg is, but since you guys have a childhood bond, I have been willing to overlook it. But that incident with the Confederate flag is the final straw. ”
They heard the crunch of gravel as the Tesla pulled back in the driveway. Meredith walked up the steps of the back deck and waved at Mary Ann through the sliding glass door.
Mary Ann turned to Tom and gasped, “She’s black.”