A Way of Going

That morning everything felt different
Iris Smyles awarded The East Hampton Star-sponsored Local Hunter Pro Hampton Classic championship prize to Holly Orlando on O. Durell Godfrey

“Which reminds me, I should check on the Twinkies,” I told Amy Zerner on Saturday. I was at an end-of-summer dinner party hosted by the glamorous grande dame of crime fiction, the English novelist and screenwriter Lynda La Plante. Monte, an astrologer and Amy’s husband, was talking about the grand trine and the night’s sturgeon moon to the film and TV producers Debra Kent and Jane Raab, while the music producer Richard Alderson looked down at his plate and said, “We haven’t had an ugly leading man since Humphrey Bogart,” and Linda, bringing out appetizers herself, complained again about the servants, vowed to get new ones — there were no servants — when Simon Kirke, the drummer of Bad Company, with his wife, the actress Maria Angelica smiling at his side, asked how we’d met. 

“She interviewed us for her column back in June, before the first day of summer, when she wanted to know about the solstice,” Amy answered, as a fire alarm went off in the kitchen, and Linda, rising, sighed and swore she’d fire every last one of them.

It wasn’t explicitly an end-of-summer party, but that morning everything felt different. I’d woken up and put on my Star Island Shark Tournament sweatshirt before heading out to watch the sunrise, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t worn a sweater since I’d bought this one after my adventure back in June. The sky was still dark as I walked with my coffee down the block toward Gardiner’s Bay. 

The day grew into itself, as the end of summer is also its peak, and so it was easy to forget in all the later heat the brief moment of cold that preceded it. Only when I wandered under some shady bit where the sun couldn’t reach did I remember something was different about today. 

I went shopping at Collette in Southampton, hoping to stock up on evening gowns at the big annual sale. I swanned past the vintage furs, ran my hand over the St. John Knits, and tied a silk scarf round my neck and looked in the mirror. I was in the fitting room, trying to get a red sequin thing over my shoulders, when I heard the saleswoman say to her younger assistant, “The days are getting shorter now. Beautiful weather today, but you can feel the fall coming.” 

“Don’t say that!” the young one answered.

But it wasn’t just the temperature. The sound was different too. Everything seemed quieter, which doesn’t really make sense, as looking around I saw more crowds than ever — the people on the long line outside Sam’s Pizza on Newtown Lane nodding in solidarity to those on the long line outside Scoop du Jour across the way. And yet I heard things more clearly, words separated from the noise, wandered out of the crowds: Pulling out of the Citarella parking lot, a husband said to a wife, “But you know I hate small talk. Why did you make me say hello to her?” 

I wore a sleeveless red dress that I hadn’t yet worn this summer to the Hampton Classic on opening morning. I was waiting under the tent with Kim Tudor, who was telling me about how they rate the horses in areas like “way of going,” which is “you know, how it moves, how it goes.” 

Kim was in charge of prizes and explained to me what I’d have to do a few moments later. The horses would finish jumping, I’d follow her down the steps and onto the field holding a bundle of colorful ribbons and medals, and then one by one congratulate the winners of the East Hampton Star Prize, turning “this way” for a photo. The sky was a perfect blue when a breeze passed through the tent where together we stood, watching a gray horse whose braided main reminded me of Bo Derek’s, and I shivered.

I was perspiring in the press tent on the opposite side at noon, as Larry Drucker, a photographer, told us about his adventures directing the Thanksgiving Day Parade and the Super Bowl at NBC. “What’s the number for?” he said he’d asked when he was handed a number in a hotel lobby in Russia in 1980, just before the Americans called off their participation in the Olympics, and he and his crew were called home. “ ‘For your egg,’ the guy says. We each got one egg and the eggs were numbered.” I felt happy sitting among the journalists, the stylish Durell Godfrey, this paper’s photographer, and the stolid Jack Graves, this paper’s sports editor and columnist, whose incisive and sometimes melancholic prose belies his demeanor, like I was part of something, now ending. 

“It must be fun going to all the parties,” a few have said when I told them of my summer column, but the real perk is Thursday morning editorial meetings in the front room at The Star, when the staff turn their chairs grumpily toward the center and David walks in, late, with a suspiciously wet head — surfing? The leafy trees blow silently outside the closed windows, as a single air-conditioner brays, making it impossible to hear why David has asked Jamie if he’ll go underwater in a shark cage. 

Jamie, next to me, says yes, before talk turns to the lifeguard bathing suit scandal, or outraged bar patrons who showed up at Town Hall to protest the early closing of their favorite haunt, and then turns again to the summer’s biggest story — the construction and completion of the roundabout on Route 114. “Who wants to write a ‘Relay’?” David asks. 

And Durell wears a different and wonderful pair of glasses every week, and the intern gets younger as the summer wears. Today I look over, and he is the starchild at the end of “2001.” It’s his last day, he says from the womb. And Chris rustles the paper, and Carissa sighs, and Helen asks Jack why a 5-year-old is pictured crossing the finish line at the marathon — “Did she run too?” — and Taylor wonders what it feels like to get tazed, and Isabel’s dog makes the rounds, electing each week a different one of us as her favorite. There was a week in July when she sat at my feet. “Hello, room!” Durell says when she walks in. Does Baylis look up? Does Mark clear his throat? What is Jen typing?

“I saw Donna Karan and Matt Lauer at the Classic and bought three new hats. Can I get a clothing budget? Also, I went fishing. I could write about that,” I say when it’s my turn.

I’d gone fishing with a party of 12 happy men and Angie Firestone in honor of her husband Eric’s birthday. “7 a.m. sharp,” the invitation read. We each showed up to the dock in successive waves following the hour, before Eric and Angie themselves arrived at 7:45. 

On the Ebb Tide, I caught a porgie and then a black bass to match my outfit. Then I napped under a large hat while the boys attacked the ocean, before a horn periodically told them to reel in, as the boat was moving to a new location. All day we approached the Montauk Lighthouse on our right, and, drifting back, approached it again. We touched land at 3 p.m. and promised to join the Firestones for dinner at their house, where they’d cook the fish we caught.

“If you were trapped on a desert island, what would you want with you?” Dan Meeks asked, next to the banquet table set up among the trees.

“An omelette bar,” said Jordan Smith, without hesitation. “You know, like they have in hotels, so you can have a different omelette every morning.” Angie relit a candle that had blown out, before greeting more guests.

“What if you could only have either the omelette bar or the chef, like, you can have a chef, but he doesn’t have anything to cook with?”

“Something about the end of summer, I don’t know,” I said at the editorial meeting. 

In movies, the presence of a ghost will make the room cold. And when that doesn’t work, an air-conditioner. Last Thursday, it was hot again, as if the summer were refusing to die. A/C haunted the office, its dirge drowning all our voices. “This will be my last column,” I said into the hum.

At the Bridgehampton cemetery, I sat under a low tree beside a tombstone whose markings faced the other way. The tree had grown up in the wrong place, I guess, nearly covering the stone that faced it, obscuring its message. 

I ate a sandwich I’d picked up from Yama-Q after shopping for secondhand books in the Bridgehampton Book Bay next to the firehouse, my favorite thing to do when time is my own. I spread a towel and sat down and looked at the shadows cast by the grave markers, like sundials marking time. I hope when I’m gone someone might choose to have lunch with me on the hottest and sunniest day of the year, I thought, as an ant stole into the container that held my sandwich, picked up a small rogue leaf, and made off with it back into the grass. 

I was walking along Lazy Point Road last night when a woman pedaled past me on her bicycle, holding a mushroom in one hand. A few minutes later, a BMW passed the other way and the same woman hopped out of the passenger side and began collecting a whole stash of mushrooms stacked in a pile beside the road. In handfuls she put them in the car, while the man driving yelled, “Leave them, don’t take all of them!” 

“But they’re already picked!” 

“Leave them!” 

“But they’re already picked!”

The bugs don’t know summer is over. Or they do, and are biting more aggressively, aware that it’s last call. They need to eat too, I remind myself, and so try not to bother too much about their nibbling, as I make my way over to the bay at dusk. A few young turkeys in the driveway scattered when I stepped outside.

Who was it I had lunch with in the cemetery? Was he sad at the end of another summer in 1809? 

The sky was a heavy pink Sunday night — there was a party somewhere and also somewhere else; I didn’t go — with a great cloud overhead like a shroud about to be laid down. I walked east, passing a few couples set up on the beach along the bay, sipping wine, watching the sun dip below the horizon, appreciating, I guess, its way of going. Nearby a few seagulls, less sentimental, stood with their backs to the sunset. Lined up on a jetty, each on its own stone, they looked instead toward tomorrow.