“What are you writing a book about?” the butterscotch-tinted lady who tends the Guild Hall gift shop asked, as I paid for a stack of Lemuel Maynard Wiles (1826-1905) Home, Sweet Home postcards, to be used as change of address notices for friends, agent, ex-girlfriends, etc.
She sounded genuinely interested. But she was in a different dimension.
“Have you heard of Rod Serling?”
“Do you remember ‘The Twilight Zone?’” I asked, hopefully.
Glimmer of Recognition
“Do you remember, back in the 1950s, watching a show called ‘Playhouse 90?’ Serling wrote plays for that show….”
There was a glimmer of recognition, then she flickered off.
Larry of Village Hardware claimed to have known Serling personally. Said he spent the summers there. That would be news to me: my information was that Serling summered on Lake Cayuga. Said he loved him ever since he did “On The Waterfront.”
“Are you thinking of Rod Steiger?”
Anyway, he gave me a great deal on the three-speed I bought from him. “You’re going to be here for four months? You don’t want to rent. You’d spend $300. That’s enough to buy a used car. Nah, you’re much better off buying.”
“Okay, I’ll buy,” I say, a little helplessly.
Who Needed TV?
I forgot. Some people, like the lady in Guild Hall, didn’t watch very much TV back in the 1950s and early ’60s, didn’t have television, and didn’t care.
The Oceanside Cabana in Montauk, where my family used to summer during those halcyon years, didn’t have television. Who needed TV when you had the beach there and there was that great Middle Earth-like space under the cabana in which to play, get lost, get scared. That was the real Twilight Zone, under there.
No, you didn’t need television. Still don’t need it. The house I’m renting doesn’t have one.
It does have a great French bathtub, though. I do some quality thinking in there.
And I have a tree house. To be sure, I felt a little silly climbing up there the first time. You could see me from the road — and, hey, I don’t want to seem too strange.
Now I figure, what the hell.
I try not to do it on Sundays, though, when people are filing by to the church on the opposite side.
I’m telling you though, it’s neat up there. Especially on a sunny day: And I do some quality thinking. I even talk to Rod sometimes.
The back room of the Chicken House, filled with shadowy Cezannesque figures wrapped in conversation and cigarette smoke, looks invitingly cozy when I bicycle up to pick up my paper one morning, shortly after moving in. I decide to have my breakfast there.
“Is this section open?” I ask, like a geek, as eight pairs of Bonac eyes silently fix on me. Finally, someone nods, reluctantly.
The Buttery is more hospitable. The waitress smiles at me. And the light is good. I begin to scribble. Ten napkins later I have everything organized: the chapter I’m on, the book, the day, my life, my career, my next relationship, everything.
An Eerie Effect
I decorate the house according to my peculiar nurturing needs. Down go an expired calendar for 1988 and an equally dead still life. Up go the plan-a-year I purchased at the File Box (along with a lot of other stuff that looked good but which I didn’t particularly need — like black laminated paper clips); the posters of Klee and Dufy I purchased at the winter sale at Poster Originals, and, of course, the pictures of my subject I’ve collected. I arrange them on the mantelpiece in chronological order, just as “The Biographer’s Craft” suggests, one for each age; a crying two-year-old Serling, a smiling eight-year-old Serling, a grinning 16-year-old Serling, and so forth.
The effect is eerie. I decide I need a drink.
I zip down to the Grill. It is a cold Wednesday evening, I am the only customer in the bar. Shades of “The Shining.” The bartender sidles over. His voice, his mannerisms suggest that he has been waiting for me.
“Can I help you?”
Turns out to be a nice guy. I watch too many movies.
After great internal debate I decide to call my house “Twilight House.”
Well, I’ve got to call it something.
After nearly a month in “Twilight House” the culture shock just faded. Now there’s just nature shock — which I like.
Example: Leaving the spread on one Sunday afternoon, about to do a little Sunday “painting” (snaps), I hear a babbling-like commotion, like that made by carousing children. But the playground across the street is empty. In fact, the entire street is deserted.
Still, the cacophony continues; it gets louder.
I look up to see a thousand-bomber-like formation of geese, heading south (I hope).
Conversely, as I become re-sensitized, I find day trips to the city to do library research more and more jangling.
Getting To Know You
Another good sign. I’m beginning to run into people I know. Bicycling home from the library, a borrowed “Boswell’s London Journal 1762-1763″ squeezed into my basket, along with sundry groceries scarfed up at the Newtown Grocery’s sad going-out-of-business sale (I’ve already bought 12 Stouffer’s Escalloped Chickens), I cycle past my neighbor, an artist named Della W., briskly striding down Buell Lane, cane in hand.
“Oh!” She smiles. “I didn’t recognize you.” It must have been the five-day growth of the beard.
We talked animatedly as the clouds hurtle by, speeding our conversation. We touch on her work, my work, her kids, my brother, me cat, what happened to the barn across the street, this person, that person, and, of course, the weather. “Oh! I love it! It reminds me of ‘Wuthering Heights,’” she declares, before blowing away, with a Cheshire-cat-like grin.
Later, too, while sauntering around the Chicken House, I run into the nice lady from the library, the one who gave me my card an hour before.
“Hi!” she says.
“Hi!” I reply.
The girl behind the register seems to be impressed with my newfound recognition factor. I think about revisiting the back room for breakfast.
Nah, I say to myself, chickening out. Maybe next time.
Anyway, I have work to do.