Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Turn, Turn, Turn

Today’s post is not going to be a slick or professional post.  This fact discourages me because since I work at a magazine all day, I want to bring a certain level of polish or credibility to the work that appears here.  The other writers and I may not be credible news sources or unbiased commentators, but this was never going to be a place of strict journalism—it was always going to be a place of reportage on the temperament of the soul. And the soul inhabits objects and can be at times maudlin or over-sensitive, which is why the prose must have a level of polish.

Regardless of this preamble, what I want to write about is the changing of seasons and of two different times I went somewhere.

Fine, blue light descended on the city as I left work on Friday. It would have been an unseasonably warm day if there wasn’t such a collective want of spring in the air.  The sun was slowly obscuring itself behind buildings and I draped my black jacket over my arm.  My heart was pulled in a million different directions by love, by ambition and by hunger. I went home and ate a humble dinner while watching basketball and reflecting on the long week I had just had. After dinner, I went up to the top roof of my apartment building to drink beer and smoke a cigar. Though dark, the night was warm and the moon was rising large from the southeast, casting a pale, sunrise glow when it mixed with the light pollution of the city.  I puffed the rich tobacco of the cigar and looked at the lights of the city, which is what a person does from time to time when they live in a large city such as New York. The Empire State building was colored yellow and gold and I wondered what that might have meant—I didn’t want to use my phone to find out.

The night passed by like a Friday night usually does: bars, jokes, walking, beer, remembering to call or text people back.  Along the way I made one, slightly dirty standup joke:

“The thing I hate about New York is when I run into a homeless person. I always feel so bad when they ask for change because I never have actual change on me. So, what am I going to say to them when they ask me for change? Do I tell them the truth?: ‘Sorry, I don’t have any change, I only have this $100 bill that I need to spend on dinner with a hooker.’”

I also made one extremely dirty standup joke that I won’t print here. In the backyard of a bar I ran into some friends that I don’t see too often anymore, because you tend to not see people you like when they are busy and you are busy and you are interested in a lot different things and are growing older. I was sitting with one of these friends on a wood plank drinking beer and talking:

“Did you see those tsunami videos?”

“Terrible, man.”

“Amazing. You see that slow moving water and all of sudden flame bursts out of it and you remember that the water is actually moving insanely fast.”
“It’s just bad.”

“Fucking crazy.”

Then silence.

“I got your text back on the Super Bowl. I heard Fast and the Furious 5 is actually going to be good.”

And the conversation moved from profound, current event to the mundane and stupid talk of people who have known each other for a time. The night ended on a good note with slurred talk of going to Montauk in the morning.

I woke up early on Saturday to meet my mother and sister in order to give them a ticket to an event my magazine was hosting over the weekend. I felt strangely good even though the weather had gotten slightly cooler from the night before.  The day was bright and I was feeling loose and relaxed while crowds and slow walkers moved in front and around me. I couldn’t decide what kind of mood I was in so I listened to Jeff Buckley and then Al Kooper.  While I was riding the subway, I leaned against one of the handrails by the door. The track was at a straightaway so the cars of the train seemed to be all in a line.  I looked through the back window of my car and saw a long stretching row of arched, slanted handrails. The prolonged shape of these rails through the depth of the train’s cars and here and there the bowed head of a weary or anxious rider, gave the appearance of one long church pew.  The image had never occurred to me, so I immediately decided that the main character in my third novel (a journalist who moves to Madrid with his wife and meets a young poet and falls in love with one of his co-workers while missing New York/America) would notice this shape and image before his departure. I felt my heart ache with the desire to write the scene down.

As I emerged from the subway station at Herald Square, horns and excellently recorded drums from an Al Kooper song were pounding in my ears, so I strutted in the sunlight along 32nd Street until I saw my mother and my sister standing outside of Madison Square Garden. I hugged them and kissed them hello while handing over the tickets to the event. I felt slightly like a scalper. I walked them up to 34th Street before saying goodbye. I felt a slight pang of sadness at not accompanying them, but that passed as I turned down the broadness of 34th Street and into the sun. I took the subway back to Brooklyn and when I got out of the subway, my mother had already sent me a text telling me what they were having fun.

In my apartment, while basketball flashed on my TV screen, I remembered the talk of Montauk. I texted my friend to see if the trip was still in the cards. It was. I called another friend, but she was gardening at her friend’s apartment.

“We’ll have to do mine next weekend!” She wrote.

“Lass do it,” I replied, thinking of another sunny Saturday and my knees on cold grass.

I threw a bunch of clothes in a bag, because I figured there may be a chance I’d be camping on the beach in the cold underneath the Super Moon, and headed back up to Penn Station where I got a train to Oyster Bay.

The northern shore of Nassau County is filled with great old names on its rail-line: Glen Head, Sea Cliff, Glen cove, Locust Valley, Oyster Bay. When you pass Oyster Bay by car, you get to Muttontown, which is where the really big homes lay.  Although these towns share the same stretch of land that my youth did, they are foreign worlds to me. Nassau and Suffolk are not one in the same. There is some baroque secrecy to their bluffs that I will never quite understand, coming from the colonial heritage and athleticism of my youth. The train pulled slowly around the bend into Oyster Bay and I looked first at a large home with a nice, blue tennis court out in front and then out to the choppy waves of the bay. I was between my childhood home and my current home and it felt good to take a train-line I’d never taken before.  I got off the train and walked along the track. The air and town were quiet with early spring afternoon. Birds chirped, gulls called and strollers rolled slowly and quietly on an unseen, nearby street. I turned a sand-lined corner and saw my friend waving outside of his brother’s store. He was just getting ready to close up and so we walked into the back and I helped him load some frames onto a new shelf he had just built.  He showed me maps that had been turned into covered trays and also some of his latest photographs of sunsets along different Long Island shores—one had captured some half submerged reeds so vividly it seemed as though I were submerged as well.

We closed the store and loaded into his car, heading further east. We stopped at his home on a farm where I played with his dog while he showered. I lay on the couch and listened to the falling water of the shower in the other room. I started getting thirsty for a beer, but I decided to step outside. The air was getting cooler and I could feel the dampness rising from the earth. It was that evening feeling, as though the whole day had been a fire that was now being put out, and the moistness, the rich almost ashy smell of the air and the slow-fading blue light were the after effects. My friend was soon ready and we left his dog and headed for Montauk.

We drove East through the small, boutique towns of the South Fork, towns like Hampton Bays, Southampton, Water Mill, Bridge Hampton, East Hampton and Amagansett.  Over each of these towns, their fine clothing shops, their streetlights and their movie theatres, the Super Moon shone impossibly big and bright.  Once we reached the last stretch to the outskirts of Montauk and the point, the moon bathed the road and the surrounding dunes. The road rose and you could see the line of light stretch across the dark, milky sea. When we arrived in Montauk, we found our friends on the beach next to a slowly dying bonfire. They greeted us with beers as the wind whipped up from the water. After a few beers, smoke and jokes, we decided to go into town and go to the bars. 

The first bar we stopped at was an Irish bar where I drank Budweiser and looked at the television, which showed images of the U.S. bombing Libya.  I watched the infrared shots of the blasts landing on blurry, desert landscapes and I felt very much removed from the fact that we were exerting our military muscle in another area of the world, but I felt a certain satisfaction because I knew that my dad would finally appreciate something that Barack Obama decided to do.

“What’s going on?” One of my cohorts asked.

“We’re bombing Libya.”

“Damn man. That Ghaddafi.”

“I know. He’s a lunatic.”

“How do you even spell that?”

“I don’t know. He looks like Michael Meyers from Halloween.”

I was torn from the television because we had to move bars.  There was confusion in coordinating the movement from one bar to the next, which will happen when more than four people get drunk at public places.  I ended up walking the quiet streets of Montauk with two of my friends. We smoked outside of the Chamber of Commerce and I walked up to the front door.  The building was a small wooden building that had the interior of some kind of ski lodge.

“This is the coziest Chamber of Commerce in the World,” I said.

We all ended up at a bar called the Memory Motel, which is a motel with a bar and some one-hour occupancy rooms. There’s a Rolling Stones song off Black and Blue named after the motel.  A cover band was playing note for note covers of popular songs from the past ten years. The whole bar had a classic Long Island feel: men with big shoulders and backwards hats, girls with bleach blonde hair who look attractive if you turn your head quickly, loud music and some kind of overriding atmosphere of forced masculinity. I drank my beers and joked with my friends, but in my mind I kept thinking about a sweeping statement I once made to myself about Long Island and the work I wanted to do about it. It was something to the effect that Long Island is just like Faulkner’s South or Joyce’s Ireland, it is a place full of ignorance and self-importance that many of its natives find difficult to escape.  On Long Island, there is a pervading tone of people that obscures the breath-taking beauty of the landscape, where the diversity of the beaches is perhaps the greatest in the world. You may disagree with that fact, but your mystique will never trump the mystique of Long Island. Your ignorance and hard-headedness probably won’t either.

We left the Memory and went to our hotel, The Montauk Manor, which is a large building that overlooks Fort Pond, Fort Pond Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. All of us stumbled around the halls from room to room for a time before going outside to smoke. We looked over the pond where there was an LIRR train idling at the station. The grass underfoot was springy and damp. Something about standing on a hill outside of a large, old, hotel and looking at the bodies of water that surrounded us felt profound to me.  That feeling was followed by tiredness and we all retreated to our rooms to sleep.

The next morning was filled with a large communal breakfast in our room, where everyone gathered for eggs and English Muffins, Entenmanns’s breakfast pastries, coffee and juice. One guy who I’d just meant initiated the beer drinking and the rest of us followed suit. We packed up our rooms and checked out, while slowly gathering in the parking lot.  I sat on someone’s pick-up truck bed and drank beer in the sun.  It reminded me of being 17 again and sitting the parking lot of my town beach drinking beer after school.

“I haven’t done any parking lot drinking in a long time,” someone said.  We all laughed.

Then my friend who organized the trip got us moving to walk back down to the ocean. A girl I had just met explained that there was a hotel with a large back deck that we could sit on. The deck faced the ocean and there were plenty of lounge chairs.  We walked all the way down to the ocean. Along the way we made our way over rolling seaside hills where nice, but humble homes were built.  There is something fundamental maritime about Montauk as a whole that keeps the homes, no matter how luxurious, feeling humble and appropriate. This is what separates it from the Hamptons.  It may have something to do with the spacing of the homes along the hills, but I’m not sure about that, though the vision of those houses as object in relief to one another, the ocean and the sloping, wide grass of the hills is appealing to me.

When we made it to the beach, the girl was right, there was a wide-open deck facing the ocean. The sun glimmered off the sea and it almost seemed like it was fine to go swimming.  We continued to make jokes and drink beer (while another girl passed around Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies) as the sun shone down.  I had to go to the bathroom, so I wandered to the front of the hotel where there was an indoor pool enclosed in another structure. I walked into the little building and found it empty. There was a bathroom, so I relieved myself. When I came out there was still no one there. I looked around for towels but only saw a laundry bin. When I inspected it, I found that it was filled with nicely folded towels. I quickly went back and spread the news and before I knew it, there was a small crowd of us swimming in a heated indoor pool. A Latino woman soon came into the pool area but she didn’t care that we were swimming.  She didn’t speak great English, but she was very diligent about keeping the jets in the hot tub on. So we swam laps. As my friend passed me a beer into the pool, I kicked myself back, did a small backstroke, smiled  and said:


We dried off and my friend went out to bum a smoke from the pool attendant.  We watched as my friend, with one of the small pool towels wrapped around his soaking boxer briefs, made small talk with this woman over a cigarette. He came back inside when the cigarette was done.

“Did you make a new friend?”

He nodded his head.

“Did she speak any English.”

“No, so it was mostly her just saying ‘No entiendo.’”

After our pool excursion, we returned to the back deck where everyone was ready to eat. We drank a few more beers and I began to feel the sunburn on my face, which reminded me how close summer actually was.  I looked out at the sea and how bright the light shone off the small waves of low tide. There was a sandbar forming. Children ran and rode bikes along the little inlets of water that appeared. I took a drink of my beer and it was cold.

We all made our way to an old-fashioned fast food place called John’s. There had been a St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the place was packed.  We found a few sun-soaked places to sit and ate our burgers, fries and chicken fingers greedily, while throwing back as much water as possible. Then, after watching two gangs of high school kids almost get into a fight, it was time to go home. I was lucky enough to snag a ride all the way back to Brooklyn in a car, which I was happy about since I was drunk, tired and didn’t feel like switching to the subway at Atlantic Terminal.

As the sun set along the road on the way back and I dozed in the passenger seat, I thought about how the season was actually changing.  There was a once a time when I came back from college and drove around my neighborhood in my car with the window open, smelling flowers and trees and was amazed that the spring was already in full effect.  Ever since then, I have tried to pay attention to the changing of the seasons, to those random Saturdays or Sundays where just walking in the freshness and temperature of the air has the same feel as swimming in a cold pool in the heat of summer. The car I was riding in continued along the long stretch of Montauk Highway, which turns into Sunrise Highway, which turns into the Belt Parkway, which turns into either going to Staten Island or heading into Manhattan. The road passed and the sun set, leaving only lavender and periwinkle traces of evening in the sky, that eventually became the black and orange of night in civilization.  I knew that there would still be a few cold days but that the actual winter was over. The sun burn was tingling on my face and I felt very much the exhaustion of a day in late May.

At one point, I looked out the window and saw a raised trestle of the LIRR with a train passing along it.  The night would be warm, but I remembered riding a bus back from Providence, Rhode Island in February. I’d been visiting my friend and his fiancée. My friend and I had gone to see a basketball game as a means to share our love of basketball and to communicate our long-standing friendship in one of the many ways that one can do that with a friend.  My friend and I drank beer at the game, explained our love of basketball to a woman sitting nearby who asked us who we were rooting for. After the game, we went back to his home where his fiancée and dog were waiting. They took me to a nice sushi restaurant where I splurged on sake and lots of expensive sushi. We talked about their upcoming wedding and the plans for the wedding party. I asked them about their families and the other nice things in life that their union would bring. Then, later, we watched the Oscars and I drank beer. I asked my friend’s fiancée about each pop singer that came up, because I realized that I didn't know many of them. I was pleased with the good humor in which she explained them to me and gave me her opinion. It made me very happy to hear her talk about it all while I threw a toy to their cute, young puppy.  Finally, my friend and his fiancée decided to go to bed. It was about 11:30.  I told my friend that I would go upstairs, drink beer and read Tolstoy before bed.

“How late do you stay up?” he asked me.

“Until about 1:00 every night.”


The next day, I woke up, showered, stripped the bed and we went to have breakfast before I caught my bus. We ate breakfast at a place my friend had taken my mom and sister when they were in town visiting.  We ate breakfast. I drank their strong coffee.  We talked about our families and again about the wedding. I found myself getting very excited for his wedding and for all the fun we would have at and around it.  All of my friends would be in one place at the wedding. I would even get to see my friend’s mom again, someone I hadn’t seen in a few years. The coffee set in and I couldn’t stop talking about plans and my thoughts on each of our friends.  That was a warm day in February. I took off my coat as my friend left me at the bus station.  I gave him a big hug and told him that he should call me or e-mail me if he needed any input on the wedding planning.

I watched him take off out of the bus depot and I boarded my bus back to New York, listening to the other passengers.

“I’m taking this all the way down to Jacksonville.”

“That’s some ride.”

“I’ll need a shower when I get there.”

The driver gave us an overly enthusiastic welcome speech and we were soon boring down Route 95, passing through the trees of far eastern Connecticut.  At one point during the ride, I looked at the snow on the ground and hoped that it would melt fast in the strange warmth of the day.  I tried to make out branches and stems of leaves and flowers pointing out of the snow. As the bus moved along I thought of the passing of years between my friend and I. How his life was approaching something extraordinarily different from my own. There was an intimacy to his life, to the space and objects in his realm that he shared with his soon-to-be wife. Its what everything is about, I decided. For some reason I was thinking about Milton. I keep repeating some refrain in my head that went “Winter is the longest season, the changing of the guards, the eras of our life.”  I wasn’t quite sure why, but it kept turning over in my mind. All I saw, though, was passing light, as though years could become something palpable in an instant.  The bus kept rolling toward the city and I felt very happy for my friend and that there would be continuous things to look forward to in life even if they weren’t all as immediate as I wanted them to be.

I woke up yesterday after my long weekend and drank two big mugs of coffee in my apartment. The rain was pouring down, but I felt strangely rested.  I put on my large London Fog trench coat and stepped out in the rain, feeling very much strong, sharp and invincible.  I stepped on the train and stuck my umbrella into the deep side pockets of the coat.  I looked around the train and all of a sudden felt a deep sense of loss for no apparent reason.  There were current events going on all around me that I couldn’t get a firm grasp or stance on. I saw men reading the Times or the Wall Street Journal, which had images of explosions in Libya on the cover. My Twitter feed was a stream of the rising death tolls in Japan. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the tragedy of the world, but rather that I perhaps should have a better hold on how I actually felt. I then had a thought about my friends that had intimate lives that were developing with other people and wondered how I would be able to balance ambition and interest with that need to be intimate with another—how to throw off the crutches of Don Draperisms.  I turned on “John The Baptist” by Al Kooper as I exited the subway back into the rain.  The melody made me feel strong and poised again.  I entered my office and sat down at my desk. People threw questions my way.

“Are you sunburnt?” A girl I work with asked.

“Yes,” I smiled.

She shook her head, laughed and walked away.

Something about that small exchange gave me a sense of validation.  There were things to attend to at work and I already had a sunburn.  There were things coming in the future.  Seasons were changing.


  1. A sushi restaurant is a convenient place to chat. There's something about Japanese cuisines that make eating-less-talking-more a convenience (perhaps it's the sake or the small servings in sushi's).

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