A CANVAS TENT
So there we were, the four of us, me, Barbara, Victor and Lisa. One year removed from Woodstock, living in Queens through those uncomfortable muggy summers. We decided to escape on a Friday night, out to Montauk. I loaded my 1968 Cutlass with provisions, blankets and a painter’s canvas drop cloth. Oh yeah, we were real Mutual of Omaha adventurers. No more house shares in Southampton. No more sleeping while standing in a renter-abused saltbox while scores of young potheads and winos imbued, smoked hashish laden joints and fell out in an empty corner, on the grimed floors or grass-less yard, but not us, oh no, we didn’t do such things.
We were headed to the bucolic nether-lands of Montauk with open vistas and a never ending blue-green ocean where the salt air cleansed our city lungs.
Lambrusco bottles, Boone Farm apple jack and for the connoisseur, Almaden Cabernet. Right on. We were hip. Digging ourselves, long hair, emblem patched jeans, Afros, nickel bags and twenty-five dollar ounce bags. Shit was good.
That spring we had thrown books, chairs, files and waste baskets out the windows of our universities to protest the Vietnam War, when SDS wasn’t a stock exchange symbol. We were where it’s at, baby, far out, groovy, the Chambers Brothers singing Time. Solid, square business, I can dig it; slap me five not a high one. Everyone wanted an Austin Healy 3000, a Triumph, an MG, a Carmen Gia, later for those establishment cars.
We wanted to lose the crowds, find our own Walden Pond.
We started from Astoria, Queens with my father’s hatchet because one never knew.
By the time we reached the Grand Central Parkway, half a bottle of Lambrusco remained, and a small roach that was held by a black hair pin. Talk about necessity as the mother of invention.
We had a treasure that we didn’t know existed, eastern Long Island, when Sunrise Highway had single strand traffic lights with old-timey filling stations and Montauk Highway rolled through quiet little towns without the ubiquitous fast food places and convenience stores and gasoline sold for an exorbitant thirty-six cents a gallon.
What was there not to like about eastern Long Island? Farm fields, duck farms, the sweet smell of cut grass, quaint houses interspersed with rambling Hamptons’ summer cottages. Hippies in bare feet. Open vistas of corn plants and blue-black nights filled with bright stars.
The old Cutlass rolled through Southampton, Watermill, Bridgehampton at fifty cents for a fifty pound bag of potatoes, East Hampton where majestic trees evoked a sense of reassuring calm, an end of day leisure awaiting its citizens.
We redeemed our adventurous selves by not having a fixed destination which kept the excitement alive as it had been since our initial departure. Past Amagansett, we searched alongside the highway, the scrub pines, and rolling dunes towards the ocean, seeking that partially hidden driveway, path or opening between the foliage to allow us the sanctuary of a camp.
A few miles before we reached Montauk proper, we found a weedy and bushy overgrown drive and followed the rutted way to an abandoned stucco house. Trees grew from the interior. Old window sashes rotted on the damp soil.
We parked. Dusk settled with light clouds, and sparse raindrops. Before we made camp we toured the old home. The collapsed roof opened to a growing foggy mist. The chirp of squirrels, the cheep-cheep of birds, the flutter and scamper of small animals in the surrounding woods infused us with the quiet of an off the road safe haven.
Tomorrow we’d dip into the icy crashing waves of the Atlantic. Vic and I strung a rope between two trees, draped the old painter’s drop cloth and configured an elongated canvas tent, rustic and dry. The mist stuck to Vic’s fro and resembled so many little ice beads. We laid out an old oil tablecloth on the ground under the tent, piled it with blankets, retrieved our sandwiches, chips, soda, water and wine.
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