A very odd thing happened after the big hurricane passed through at the beginning of the month. I wonder if you noticed it. It seemed the whole world was just shined clean. In the sky, you could see off into the distance almost forever—there was no mist, no humidity, no anything. On the ground, other than the mess of tree limbs, broken fences and leaves—all the usual stuff—the other stuff, left by humans, Styrofoam and beer cans and stray papers, all seem to have been swept up by a giant vacuum to be taken—where? Circling the earth, but way up so high it was even beyond the ionosphere? Well, better up there than down here. Even the constant hum of automobiles was gone after the hurricane for a few days.
Personally, it reminded me of an earlier time, a time when I was a boy and everything was clear and bright and unpolluted and you could see forever and sniff the clean air. But that’s a whole other story. This was all about Housekeeper Irene.
With this in mind, I was rather delighted to receive an email from our book editor, Joan Baum, inviting my wife and I to Indian Wells Beach in Amagansett for a bonfire party beginning at 6 p.m. to welcome the rising of the giant Harvest Moon. It would be Monday, September 13.
We would come, I wrote back. Do we need to bring anything? The next day, there arrived back in an attachment a songbook of lyrics. We would sing to the moon. Inside, I found “Moon River,” “Shine on Harvest Moon,” “Moon Shadow,” “Blue Moon” and a host of others. When was the last time anybody sang anything to the moon?
We arrived at 6 p.m., the appointed time. It was still light at that hour, although the day was already waning into a sunset off to the west, which, as it sometimes does, was producing a mirrored strip of colors on the horizon over the ocean in the mist to the east. The sky, other than that, appeared clear.
We easily found where our moon choir was getting ready to set up. There were several banquet tables laden with food and drink, a jeep, several dogs, about a dozen people yakking away and a semi-circle of folding chairs set up around a woodpile in a pit. The semi-circle was clearly a theatre audience. The open side of it was where—off on the horizon—the moon would rise. Everybody would have a clear view.
We were introduced around. Among those attending were Lynne Scanlon, a book publisher from Clearwater Beach; Walter Noller of East Hampton, a Command Sargeant Major, U.S. Army Reserve (who brought his guitar); Kris Warrenburg, graphic designer from Springs; Rob Anthony, the president of a computer company; Mark and Lucie Scanlon, visiting from Connecticut; Jane Hastay of Springs and her husband Peter Weiss (who also brought his guitar); Bea Derrico of Springs; MJ Vineburgh, owner of MJ & Company Catering & Party Planning of New York and East Hampton; Joanne Knight of Montauk and numerous others, including a few performers from the Naked Stage Theatre Company in Bridgehampton. We talked for awhile and drank of the beverages that had been assembled, which consisted of soda, beer and wine, and we ate of the food which was not only chips and cheese and guacamole dip, but also containers of baked, spiced chicken legs and meat ravioli. I later, by scrumbling around in some bags, found Entenmann’s cookies and cakes, ate a few for dessert and set the rest out for the others.
Also present at this event was a battery-driven CD player on a small table—from which emerged a mix of stuff from an earlier era, the Rolling Stones, some Doo-Wop, the Cars, etc.
Also, on another small table, was a giant red plastic dome with dials on it and a thick tube sticking out one end of it aimed at where the moon would soon rise. It was a new kind of telescope.
“Sixteen power,” said Mark Scanlon, who had brought it.
We talked for a long time standing on the sand there about this and that—Obama, the summer just past, our children and friends, the hurricane and the crisis in Greece—we are an intellectual lot—and after awhile, perhaps an hour, people began to wonder what had happened to the moon. It was dark now. Our bonfire was raging. And yet the moon had not arrived.
Damn these performers, always a few minutes late to account for the late arrivals, I thought.
“What time was it due?” I asked.
“What time is it now?”
“A few minutes after seven.”
There was brief discussion about how maybe we had the time wrong or something. I suggested there might be a sort of hiccup in the earth that had gone unnoticed making the moon late. Nobody seemed amused. A few people actually walked down the beach a bit to get, well, closer to where the moon was supposed to rise. Perhaps closer they could see what was the problem. One person walked down to the surf to try to peer around a dune at the back of the beach. Perhaps it had come up over the land this time. All came back with negative reports. The party continued, moon or no.
And then, suddenly, two moon lengths above the ocean, a glint of moon appeared. It was the damn mist. The moon had risen, unnoticed, because it had been hiding in the mist. The glint became a horizontal strip, and then the strip got wider and wider into a bar and soon we were looking at the whole damn moon and there it was, already riz. But visible to us for the first time.
People made complimentary comments about the moon. A line formed at the telescope, and I waited my turn. Yup. It was the moon alright.
“Isn’t the harvest moon in October?” somebody asked.
And so, we partied on, the moon now blazing full, sending a glittering trail of silver across the top of the sea toward us and pretty much lighting up the rest of the beach and everything else in its glow.
Joan Baum had actually printed out about a dozen copies of the song sheet lyrics, and at this point she handed them out and we began, as we had been instructed to do, singing at the moon but a cappella, since there were no chords on the song sheet and the guitarists struggled with getting us into a familiar key or finding the complex chords to some of them. I think a few of these were by Cole Porter.
“…wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style someday.”
“Shine on, shine on Harvest moon, up in the sky” (the guitarists got this one).
“I’m being followed by a moon s.hadow, moon shadow, moon shadow, dom dum.” (No guitar.)
After awhile we got tired of the moon songs. The moon had not responded, not said a damn thing, no thank you, nothing. Maybe this should be about us.
“How about ‘You Are my Sunshine?’” I suggested.
Now you’re talking, a few people said. Everybody knows that. And so the guitarists led us grandly through that.
Is it sacrilegious to tell the moon it is our sunshine? We were no longer even thinking about that. We all had our sunshines.
“Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
Rob Anthony kept feeding logs onto the bonfire. One of the dogs, a Cairn terrier named Gracie, jumped up into my lap and hunkered down for pats, which I generously provided.
And after a few campfire songs, we put the CD back on and sang some rock and roll songs.
And so it went on into the night, the moon shining grandly down on us, bathing us in its light, a few surfers walking past us in the dark, a few lovers, a few strollers.
Far off into the distance to the east, we could see the flickering light of another bonfire on the beach.
I did wonder about that. And I wondered if they were wondering about us. And after awhile, with lots of thank-yous and we had a wonderful time and nice meeting everybody, we all began to drift away.