daddy, why can’t you just get a normal job?

A normal job.
A normal job.

LIKE MANY PEOPLE when I reached my late teens I made some big decisions based on a few loosely connected concepts that continue to track me to the present day. I was good at writing and could do it quickly and did not care for an academic major like psychology or anthropology. The way I saw it, journalism was practical, just a craft, like being an electrician or a mechanic. It was a job that needed to be done and I had some of the right skills to do it.

There were a few hints along the way that our lives as journalists might diverge from the college-educated mainstream though. “Don’t expect to get rich from this job,” one professor said. “You’ll meet a lot of alcoholics in this business,” another confessed. “Everyone has heard about the reporter who comes back to the office after a long day on the job, pulls out the whiskey, and gets to work, and I am here to tell you, it’s true.” To me, as a 19-year-old kid who liked to drink on the weekends, journalism seemed to promise everything I could ever want — a life spent writing, a career path lubricated by liquor, and, most of all, limited responsibility. It was the perfect job for the drifter at heart, and that was me.

Yet somehow I got settled. I meandered over to the other side of the world only to fall in love with a woman. Then we got married and have had three children and acquired real estate. And all the while I was writing. I got so used to writing that I started to write even when I wasn’t getting paid. I started one blog and another and then I started this one. My poor children have grown up watching their father stare at a small rectangular screen, sometimes even in awe of the speed in which letters sprout up across it. But they hate it too. They wish they had a father who went to work somewhere and then returned from that place. Or better yet, someone who does something physical, who produces something other than content.

My eldest daughter’s friend has a boat mechanic for a father. I’ve never seen him in action, but I imagine that he is walking around a lot with tools in his hands and perhaps rubbing his forehead from time to time when a particularly ugly job comes in. “It’s a damn shame what salt water does to good vessels,” he has a habit of saying. “It just destroys them.” “The wiring?” I ask. He nods. “The wiring. Everything.” Sometimes he goes to training courses in New Hampshire to learn about lake boating and kick it with other boat mechanics. The kids come too and they stop at the aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, along the way. It all seems very nice.

My daughter senses this niceness too, which is why the other day while I was checking my email in the car she said, “Daddy, why can’t you just get a normal job?”

“A normal job?” I set down my device. “But being a journalist is a normal job.”

“No, it isn’t.”

“It isn’t?”

“No.”

“Well, what kind of job do you think I should get?”

“Why not be a boat mechanic?” she said and shrugged. “Jenny’s dad does that. He seems to like it.”

A boat mechanic? I thought. Only on the North Fork. Anywhere else and your kid would ask you to be a doctor or a restaurant owner. But on the North Fork, ask a child for a career option and she’s bound to mention something to do with boats or vineyards. And it’s not just Jenny’s Dad. Angie’s parents run a dock-building business. And Nate’s dad owns a berry farm.

“But I didn’t go to school to become a boat mechanic,” I said. “I went to school to become a journalist.”

“Are you serious? They actually have schools for that?”

“They do. And I don’t think I’d be a very good boat mechanic anyway. I’d probably screw the boats up more. They’d sink.”

She thought for a moment. “Yeah, you probably would,” she said. “But maybe you could try and write a little bit less sometimes. Okay Daddy?”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll try.”

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welcome to greenport in summer, man

Who are these people?
Spending G’s

FORGIVE ME if I have forgotten what the on season in Greenport is like. There are vague memories, yes, faint stains of motorcycles and convertibles humming down Front Street with pop music drifting through the air, “‘Cause we’ll never be royals {royals} …”

There were lines in those days, lines at the cafes and in the supermarkets, and just on the streets everywhere. It was hard to walk down the sidewalks, because the other pedestrians didn’t seem to know where they were going, and they’d just drift along as if lost in a bit of fog or a dream.

And you couldn’t drive through town without almost knocking down an aloof couple that looked like Mr. and Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island, stepping by accident into the street beside the maritime supplies store, as if all of Greenport was their own private yacht. They had all come from somewhere to here, but from where and for what purpose?

In the off season, there was no one on Front Street on the January Monday mornings, and I was the only other soul beside the shivering postman and icy police officer, sipping his hot coffee next to his car as the reassuring steam curled up and into the air. You learned how to dress like a North Forker, too, not like the on season crowd, but with the correct amount of neglect in the wardrobe. At first, you dressed down just to blend in, but soon enough your clothes were dirty from some automotive or domestic mishap, and you didn’t bother to shave anymore, and imagined yourself as a tough and able Nantucket whaler. You would walk out to the end of the main pier in the wind and stare at Shelter Island and stay for as long as you could until the weather sent you running for Aldo’s Coffeehouse’s womb-like warmth.

There were few truly good-looking people in Greenport in winter, most of them haggard and some just above the poverty line. So when the good-looking, well-dressed people started showing up and spending G’s, I began to sense that something was amiss. In a place where flannel never went out of style, what to make of that couple in form-fitting athletic clothes rollerblading down the street? And did you hear, they had British accents?

Something is happening in Greenport. It’s changing. Restaurants that were closed for months are now open and busy. Beautiful people sit around the patio tables, looking as if they are somewhere special, somewhere to be seen. Beyond them, crowds of youths prowl about with cool green growlers from the brewery. Should I think of them as fools, or welcome their cash injections into the local economy? The latter seems to be the local sentiment. On the main road, the children of East Marion are selling lemonade. Southold residents are dragging old furniture out on their lawns and asking top dollar for these East End vintage antiques. Soon the local berry farm will begin charging “tourist prices” — $10 for a jar of authentic North Fork blackberry jam, with all of that just folks country, melted-in, mmm-mmm-mmm goodness.

[This isn’t just your average, run-of-the-mill blackberry jam. Oh no. This jam is from the North Fork.]

It’s enough to make a man scream when someone who looks like somebody from Hollywood goes strolling down the street walking a tiny dog and eating ice cream. At the cozy corner nook in the village between the Georgian-owned cafe where they sell the tasty khatchapuri and the Turkish-owned liquor store where I am fond of idling away my time and restocking my Bedell 2010 First Crush red table wine — which only costs $20 — I asked David, who has always lived here, about the swarms of savage strangers.

“David, what the hell is going on?”

“What do you mean, man?”

“There are all of these well-dressed people here this week. They look good and have nice clothes. They can’t be from around here.”

“Oh, you mean the yuppies? Welcome to Greenport in summer, man.”

“But it’s not summer. It’s still May.”

“Memorial Day weekend. That’s what kicks it off.”

“It’s crazy.”

“What is?”

“I saw a couple bicycling through town this morning. They were wearing matching fanny packs.”

“But that’s just how it is, man. And believe me, it’s only going to get worse.”

And maybe it has. David is suddenly clean shaven and wearing a collared shirt. And I am too. It’s Greenport in summer. Gotta stuff the local scruff.

the tuesday afternoon dildo club

Just another letter from the swinging East End.

IN A COFFEEHOUSE on Front Street in Greenport, a group of ladies gathers every Tuesday to share and gossip. Some are younger, others older, some thinner, others larger. But they are loud. The round table in the front of the building seems to spin round and quake with nervous energy and laughter, and the conversation themes usually drift from polite updates on personal lives and real estate to down and dirty girl talk, and you’ll find your ears prick up each time an out of context word like “dildo” penetrates the otherwise mild and old-timey atmosphere of bean roasting smoke and recorded Italian folk singers.

I pretend not to listen to them as I work, but I cannot help but eavesdrop. I measure my own manhood in counterpoint to their strident womanhood, and this gives me great sadness. It seems that so many men and women define each other by gender. They cannot see past this very important dividing line. It envelopes all. The Tuesday afternoon dildo club issues bold communiques like, “But that’s men, they want to control you, they want to isolate you, my ex-husband was just like that.” When a woman’s husband actually entered the cafe to say hi, the gatherers adopted a faux friendliness of “Hi there you!” and pecks on the cheek that vanished the second he was out the door, followed by the telling postmortem, “Why do men feel like they need to do that? Intrude?”

The last confab of the Tuesday afternoon dildo club led me into even more peculiar territory. Someone mentioned Orient, the village where we live, and another person brought up all the “swinging” that goes on in Orient. Swinging? I paid swift notice. As in Swinging London?

“And it’s not just couples, it’s marrieds,” the first woman gushed.

“Really, marrieds, too?!” A second woman half-asked, half-gasped.

“Yeah, it’s huge out there,” the first one said, “not that I know from experience. I have just heard. And also on Shelter Island. And also Sag Harbor,” she said.

“Yes, yes, swinging is huge in Sag Harbor,” a third woman agreed, touching her chest to connote integrity and honesty, as if she knew even better than the first woman about Sag Harbor’s wild key parties. I imagined the nice young Latina cashier I saw at the deli in Sag Harbor, and the gentleman with the scarf and the Jack Kerouac glasses. Were they in on it too? So many things were going on around me and I had been oblivious all this time.

“Will you quiet down,” the first one said, “you are disturbing people. He’s trying to work.”

“No he’s not, he’s listening to us,” the second woman said. I cocked an eyebrow at the revelers seeking some acknowledgement of my humanity, our shared asexual existence, but one never came. Only more locker room talk and vibrant outbursts and chocolate dusted cappuccinos and rubbery pounding of fists on the table. To quote Monty Python, there was much rejoicing.