Relay: Re: Person I Knew

The lamenting of summers gone by

Chill out, give thanks, I wrote, from Brooklyn, in a typically mawkish letter to The Star eight years ago.

I remember the afternoon too well. The 100-degree heat in the sixth-floor walkup, the sliced-open palm in a window air-conditioner installation gone wrong, and the south side of Williamsburg’s essential soundtrack to summer: incessant car alarms and stereos 24/7/365. And always, the lamenting of summers gone by.

Entertaining as the melee could be, I wrote to urge the warring parties of The Star’s letters pages to step back from the gaping partisan divide and remember how very fortunate they were, enjoying another summer on the South Fork. 

Twenty months ago, I wrote, from Amagansett, a typically weepy “Relay” about the last day of summer — in my experience of that summer of 2016, if not the calendar’s. A self-pitying account of a day in October, it was all long shadows and falling leaves and an unconscious yearning to hibernate, dolefully played out on a dock and a boat on the harbor in Montauk. 

And on Monday night, I wrote, from East Hampton, this typically soppy “Relay” about the first day of summer, which, like the last day of summer, arrived a month late. 

It had been a long week, what with the usual work I perform as an Enemy of the American People (Sad!), Mother’s five-day visit, and negotiation of a car purchase, and when the East Hampton-to-Lindenhurst-to-Orient Point-to-East Hampton race had been run on Friday, there were just a few hours left until Saturday and early-morning longshoring in Montauk.

It’s dirty work and my clothes are quickly damp if not drenched, but that one-way ticket to somewhere, I keep telling myself, isn’t going to buy itself, so earn and then earn some more.

Damp and dirty but done in the early afternoon, instead of driving back to East Hampton I accepted an invitation to hang out at Ditch Plain Beach with my friend and Y and Y’s friend, Y2. 

Y is renting a room from my friend for the summer, and brought Y2 along when she came out from Brooklyn on the train on Saturday morning. It’s a small world, after all: Y2 used to work at a groovy restaurant-lounge around the corner from my sixth-floor walkup. We knew each other slightly, across the aughts, in Brooklyn, where Y and Y2 are in an all-girl punk band. I am in awe.

But the thing is, Saturday, July 21, was the first time it felt like summer. I’d barely been on a beach before that afternoon, and on Saturday the clouds and windy, unsettled air had dissuaded many from a swim or surf. Mostly alone and close on a couple of beach towels, we all caught up and had a few sips of beer and laughed a lot and looked to the cliffs and the horizon and the heavens, and we felt so fortunate and happy. 

Later, I remembered what I had forgotten: The world is bigger than a wind farm, an airport, an election campaign, and perfluorinated chemicals. People discuss and do other things, like music, and art, and adventure, and that is mostly the province of the cities. That is why Y and Y2 came from far away to live there, and my own thoughts of returning gather anew — once the temperature has dropped below 80, that is — as do thoughts of venturing farther afield, to the field of infinite potentiality.

But on Saturday, it was good just to lie flat and look at the sky and, for a minute, have nothing at all to do. Later still, at the Star Island Yacht Club, we came to know the bliss of a late-afternoon drink by the pool, until it was time for Y2 to take the train back to the city. 

On Flamingo Avenue, windswept and enveloped by David Bowie’s “Soul Love” blaring like a Williamsburg car alarm from the new convertible’s stereo, we hurtled toward the train station, carefree and exhilarant in the moment. “New love, a boy and girl are talking / New words, that only they can share in / New words, a love so strong it tears their hearts / To sleep through the fleeting hours of morning.” 

And then, a deer bolted from the brush and across the two lanes, and I stomped on the brake, and Y and Y2 screamed and threw their arms high, and we all laughed and marveled at the nearness of the unknown. 

Christopher Walsh is a senior writer at The Star. “Re: Person I Knew” is an album by Bill Evans recorded at the Village Vanguard in 1974.