Here’s the deal with New York. It is one of the most spectacularly dazzling panoplies of human activity in the entire history of Earth. When people speak of the great cities ten thousand years hence, they will remember New York City. It’s like that. On the other hand, it can grind you down in the crush of the vast rush hour, the expressionless velocity of capitalism and celebrity and intellect, the relentlessness of its perpetual momentum, the constant noise, the crucible of the Monday morning subway. This city takes its toll and you don’t even realize how high the tolls are here until you get out.
So we got out! We got out of New York and went to the gosh darn Hamptons. Yes, those Hamptons. The Sex and the City, Lamborghini driving, martini guffawing, yacht sailing, Hamptons. THE Hamptons. But before you raise your eyebrow too high and make some snarky comment about “how I’ve changed,” know that the only reason we could afford it was to have 15 of us go in on a single beach house. Many of us slept in sleeping bags on air mattresses on the floor. We were like a refugee family in paradise. And a paradise it was. It was so beautiful that it was almost hilarious.
We played badminton barefooted in the grass. We sipped margaritas in deck chairs and leafed through magazines. We ate lobster and mussels and barbecued hamburgers, hot dogs, and ripe ears of corn. We sunbathed on the private beach and swam out into the bay. We played every manner of game and watched the dogs sprint after rabbits in the yard. But mostly we just talked and drank and laughed. I seriously can’t remember laughing that much in a long, long time.
In the evening, as the sun sank into the horizon, the whole scene was like an advertisement for Tommy Hilfiger or Lacoste or Polo. No joke. My heart almost hurt to see such idyllic splendor. Then we all went up to supper together at a long table on the porch, still wearing our swimsuits.
Most of the crew were buddies of my wife from her days at Columbia and in Paris and here’s what I say about them: These are some of the most exceedingly thankful folk I’ve ever met. As is their tradition at Thanksgiving parties, Christmas parties, New Year’s parties (not Halloween parties), a moment comes during dinner when someone, most often Gia, calls for toasts. Everyone goes around the table and makes a toast of some sort. It’s sort of like a prayer in a way. As this was a birthday for our friend Claire, who had just returned from her work in Africa, everyone took a turn saying something nice about her. And she deserved every kind word of it. Claire is pretty damn great and it is very good that she was born. It was a hell of a meal and an altogether thankful affair.
Many times during the weekend, people asked about the weird blog I was writing. “What’s this death blog thing you’ve been working on? I get Facebooks about it but I haven’t checked it out yet.”
“Oh,” I would say uncertainly. “It’s about all the happy and painful and miraculous and scary and hopeful aspects of death, I guess. Also there’s a bunch of poems and songs.” Then I’d go on at some length about Duende and Negative Capability and all the things I had been writing about. Then it was time for another beer.
One evening, I sat up with my friend Booters (yes, that’s what people call her), talking about her very interesting ideas of birth and death. She happens to think that bringing a child into the world is actually morally wrong. She believes that people usually have children for selfish reasons and a parent bears all responsibility for the pain and suffering that a child experiences. Because we have a moral obligation to not cause pain, especially to those we love, it is immoral to bring a new person into being.
Booters is really freaking smart and, though I often disagree with her, I love listening to her describe her outlook on the world. For one, I pointed out how funny it was to argue for the immorality of birth during an exquisite birthday weekend. If she had her way, at least in my opinion, this little holiday would be a time of mourning, which would suck. It also seemed to be borderline Nihilistic, that it would be better if none of us had been born and I don’t hold with that. And so we went back and forth for a long time. I wasn’t trying to talk her out of her position, I was just real curious.
Then we saw the longest, brightest shooting star I’ve ever seen. It drew a line from one corner of the sky to the other. It had a lengthy, fiery tail and burned for at least three seconds as it came into our atmosphere. One one thousand, Two one thousand, three.
In the morning, I woke up and it was raining heavily outside our window. The sound of it was so comfy and my dog, my wife and me all went back to sleep in our little room. I slept almost til noon. When I finally woke up, the whole house smelled like bacon and coffee and the rooms were crowded with laughter. We played Celebrity, which is a game kind of like charades except for the fact that it’s actually fun.
By the afternoon, the storm had passed. The sky cleared and the sun came out. Once again the bay was a postcard and we were back to our badminton and swimming and lounging and posing for beer commercial photos. In the evening, the long table on the porch was set for dinner once more and it was time for toasts.
This time the toasts of thanksgiving were more open-ended, longer and more emotional. At least two of our number were brought to tears by thankfulness (and wine) and love. It could have been a wedding! Being thankful is probably the best thing that humans can do and, in the end, it may be the only aspect of this life over which we have dominion. Then we ate and drank our fill and got back to the important business of laughing.
Booters, shocked at the sight of a very small dog trying to hump a very large dog. You know what? Get over it already.
Late in the meal, one of our fellows returned to the table after a long absence and sat down in silence. He was so very quiet. Then he said softly that he had gotten a phone call and had been told that his father had just died.
I was stunned. We all were. Him most of all. But a dickish, greedy part of me was also excited. After all, this was exactly what I had been writing about for a month and it was happening someone right before my eyes! After a time, I asked him, “What was your favorite memory about your father?” He just shook his head vacantly and got up and walked away.
Really? Really Nathan? I mean, how totally insensitive can you be? Here’s a dude in the throes of loss and you want to interview him or something for your stupid blog? Damn! I can be a real asshole sometimes.
I didn’t know what to say to him to apologize. Eventually, he came back with a drink in hand and asked to make a toast. We all stood and he said, “So I found out tonight that my dad died. And I wanted to raise a toast to him. So… to Walter!” We all raised our glasses and gave him hugs. The whole spectrum of life was with us in that house in the Hamptons.
That next morning, I was impressed! Everyone was like a small army and pitched in and whipped that place back into shape. Then the whole lot of us went to Claire’s aunt and uncle’s house for a pool party because… you know… that’s just how we do.
It was easily one of my favorite vacations ever. And, though I love my job, going back to work this morning was just straight up hard!