Dog day in the Hamptons vs. 10th Ave. eternity

By Alphie McCourt

If I could I would leave the city two days before the rush and come back three days after the end of the weekend, or even six months later. And I would go to a place with enough people to make it festive but not so many that I have to wade through crowds to get to a quart of milk.

You’ve heard it. Some fool always says it. “I love summer weekends in the city. Especially the three-day weekends. So easy to get a restaurant reservation or a ticket to a show. Catching a cab is a breeze. And I really enjoy Battery Park on the weekend. There’s just so much going on.” I restrain myself. “Idiot,” I want to shout; “fool, you of the cretinous mush for brains. Is it any wonder that you’re stuck in the city on a holiday weekend? You’re not that young but you are single and not without funds. But who would want you? I don’t know which is worse, your stupidity or your smugness. How about if I just rip your head off and put you out of your misery?” When the temperature is at a thousand degrees and the humidity hangs heavy, I am very short-tempered.

Family obligations, pressures of work and the lack of general wherewithal have limited our weekend trips. Still, we’ve taken our share. During one particular summer I was invited, at least twice, to West Hampton. That was some years ago, before I was married. Both times I stayed out late on Friday night, overslept and missed all the morning trains. I didn’t want to go. Two nights on the town had saved me from what I thought of as a lemming-like weekend in the Hamptons. But not for long.

Later that summer, after Lynn and I hooked up together, I was invited, once again. Lynn, more social than I am, is a truly congenial person. She wanted to go. In West Hampton my friend Jack picked us up from the morning train. Jack drives a soda truck during the summer. He is a fine actor and a good and decent man. Making no mention of my two previous missed invitations, he welcomes Lynn and myself. We spend the afternoon at the beach.

In the evening we have a drink. Jack tells us that he has been invited for dinner at the home of a friend. Rita has been good enough to invite Lynn and myself. Rita, tall, slim and attractive, has long black hair with a shine to it. Liquor, wine and beer are plentiful. Them that smokes, smokes. Them that tokes, tokes. The food is tasty and satisfying.

Jack knows the two other guests. They are a couple. Then comes a surprise guest. Rita, our hostess, opens the back door and he bounds into the room where we are still at table. Rita introduces him. “This is Rex,” she says. “Hi, Rex,” we chime, with pretended welcome, cheerful as we are and full of fellow feeling after a good dinner.

Rita sits in an armchair. Rex, a full-grown male Doberman, climbs up and lies across her. “Rex is my best friend,” she explains. From the way he lies across her and from the way she strokes him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he is more than that. But it’s none of my business. Besides, I am relaxed. Lynn is not. She begins to make those eloquent non-gestures that come naturally to women. There’s no real movement, just certain stiffness in the neck. It’s eyes right or eyes left but never straight ahead. This semaphore always indicates the need for departure. A prudent partner pays attention. Lynn’s signals are urgent, a call for immediate flight.

“Yeah, Yeah,” I think, “just when I’m relaxed and having a good time.” I’ve been paying little attention to Rita and her dog until, ever so casually she says, “Don’t make any sudden moves. Rex protects me at all times. Sudden movements provoke him.”

Jack’s head comes up off his chest. A very good actor, he gives no sign of anxiety. Normally quick and decisive in his movements, he stands and shambles to the bathroom. In a few minutes he ambles back and stands in the doorway. “I’m beat,” he says, stretching and yawning for emphasis. “That last J did me in. I’m goin’ to take off.”

Lynn stands. I stand. There are murmurings from the other couple, something about a tennis date. “Great dinner, yes, thanks and many thanks. Maybe we’ll see you in the city. Our treat next time, great evening, good night, good night.” We barely restrain ourselves from racing to the cars.

“Whew,” sings Jack as he exhales. He pulls into the driveway, of his house, turns off the ignition and chuckles. “A woman sometimes takes up with another man,” he says. “Or a woman takes up with another woman. That doesn’t surprise me anymore. Rita and I used to be an item, you know. Then she took up with some other guy. And another guy after that. Don’t know what they did to her. Or didn’t do for her. That she has to take up with a Doberman. Better than a poodle, I guess.” And he laughs. “Glad I wasn’t the last in line. It would be my fault. And I wouldn’t want that dog to get jealous.”

Four years ago we were lured back, this time to Bridgehampton. The party, late in July, turned into a birthday party for me. Everyone laughed at my jokes and for some reason there was a fireworks display over yonder. When that ended there was another. Then another. And not a Doberperson in sight.

The following year we went again, this time to a 25-room house in East Hampton, with a swimming pool and acres of high hedges. It’s a Fourth of July party. To this splendidly catered affair come a deejay and a great mix of generations, toddlers to teenagers and on up to some very senior citizens.

A guest, an opera singer, is asked to sing “God Bless America.” Our host recruits four of us as backup singers. The diva neither needs nor heeds us. She hugs and hogs the single microphone. And she doesn’t sing to the assembled guests. She thunders at them. “God Bless America” is a blast. When she has finished she turns to us backup singers, surrenders the microphone to me and murmurs, demurely, “Thank you for your support.”

Five senior citizens, soaked and fully clothed, emerge from the pool at the other end of the property. Two had taken refuge under water to escape “the explosion.” The other three, standing by the side of the pool, chatting and doting over their grandchildren, had been blown in by the blast of sound.

Lately we have stayed in the city. Sometimes the holiday weekends come to me. On an early Sunday morning, in quest of the bagels and the scones, I stumble into a nascent street fair. Street fairs, I am convinced, are meant to distract the marginal urban middle class from any twinge of revolutionary rumbling. Overtaxed, they are, to the point at which they can afford not even a daytrip. They’ve already paid the tuition for their children’s private schools, coughed up the fees for summer camp and still they struggle to meet the maintenance charges on the co-op. Street fairs, an exercise in desperation, are a study in the control of strolling, browsing masses.

I ignore the tube socks, one-size-fits-all and resist the urge to have ice cream before breakfast, possibly a criminal act. Averting my nose from the delicious aroma of the calzone I say “No thank you” to the woman selling sheepskins at a low summer price. The call of the bagel will not be denied.

On that afternoon of low humidity I go for a walk. Way over west, avoiding the street fair, I walk down Tenth Ave. There’s little traffic. I am the only pedestrian. Normally this would cause me to be apprehensive. But I’m not. Statistics guarantee that the better class of mugger operates between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. And the lower caste mugger, in the middle of the afternoon, is asleep somewhere, still recovering from last night’s near overdose.

The Hudson River is within shouting distance. There are no tall buildings to block the spectacularly golden sunshine. Who needs the Hamptons? Warmed and reassured, I stop and stand still. Sunday afternoon is neither coming nor going. It is here, in the now. The absence of noise has conferred on me a sliver of urban eternity.

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