I wondered if the Parish Art Museum was open. I could ask them where to eat. This is not as crazy as it sounds. I was there last year; I can’t remember the art, but I recall chatting with the folks who worked there, and they couldn’t have been nicer. I peered through the drizzle. Drat. Closed. What about the Historical Society? They were friendly, too. Closed.
What was open? Fancy stores, fancy restaurants… I think McDonald’s is nearby…
I watched as a rock star (yes, a real one) parked his Bentley and trotted across the street to Hildreth’s, holding a newspaper over his head to protect his hair. Somehow that seemed strangely normal. My sister-in-law’s mother worked at Hildreth’s years ago, and she recalled one day Paul McCartney strolled in, looking for batteries or something equally pedestrian. He couldn’t find them, she said, and suddenly his melodious voice came wafting across the aisles, calling her: “Rita! Oh, Rita!” After that, none of us could get “Lovely Rita, Meter Maid” out of our heads for a year.
I drove again by the store fronts. Ralph Lauren. Christopher Fischer…
Ohhh… Christopher Fischer…cashmere. My most guilty of guilty pleasures. I didn’t want to spend $40 on dinner, but… cashmere? I could justify cashmere. It’s so nasty tonight – the puddles were already starting to form a thin turgid frozen skin around the edges – and I really should have worn a sweater. Maybe there’s a sale going on…
I put on fresh lipstick, held my head up and strolled inside, hoping not to be judged by my ratty black coat with its ripped lining. The young lady at the desk greeted me cheerfully. Just as I thought my elegant-lady disguise was fool-proof, my stomach audibly growled. Loud. So much for elegance. Sheepishly, I asked the girl if she could recommend a place to eat.
“It’s Wednesday night on the off-season”, she grinned. “$5 burgers at Barristers!”
I left with a smile. Weren’t the sales associates in fancy stores supposed to be snooty? Another of my Southampton stereotypes shot to hell.
I sat with a glass of Merlot and a nice, hot, juicy burger, medium rare, watching the rain from my seat in the front window. The rock star returned to his Bentley, having abandoned his wet newspaper. A couple of women walked by, dry under their umbrellas, laughing.
I thought I had the East End – like my life – all figured out; but then I saw all of the discrepancies, all of the things that reminded me that there are no stereotypes that can’t be shattered, no absolutes; there is always a surprise or two just waiting around the corner. I’m out here for a reason, not a vacation. That’s different. I’m here in the cold and pouring rain, not soaking up the sunshine. That’s different, too. So should it be so odd that I’m picking up where I left off thirty-five years later? I don’t think anyone out here would think so. There is just something about being here. I think perhaps it has something to do with being flexible with whatever life throws your way. Maybe it’s the ocean breezes. Maybe it’s all the artists and creative folks being perfectly, abnormally normal … just like me. Maybe it’s the sheer beauty of the place, when you come down to it. Or maybe, it’s simply that I came to Southampton feeling awkward, but immediately felt at home.
That night, I decided to go back to school, once and for all.
The rain had finally stopped. I drove slowly home in the dark, watching out for errant deer. I felt very light and very young. Life was once again an open-ended adventure, where anything could happen.
As I crossed back over the Shinnecock Canal I looked to my right and sought out the red house in the darkness. Barely visible, I knew it would become my own little touchstone, a silly, superstitious habit, meaningful only to me. I would know that I was really, truly getting there, whenever I passed it. Wherever “there” turned out to be.
That red house is sort of my good luck charm. I still don’t know if it is a bait and tackle or a private home, but some things, like life itself, are far more interesting before all its secrets are revealed.
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