‘Go East Old Friend, Go East…’
by William J. Hughes, October 30, 2013
The battle of Gettysburg. Only 150 years ago, humans still in chains, Lee took his army of Northern Virginia into the north, the Union, Pennsylvannia.
I have to go. Maybe it’s Trayvon Martin and all that can still go wrong. Or surely it’s the Vietnam dollar settlement I just got from the VA. Gotta go. Can go.
So, while I’m back east, the Baltimore Basilica, Annapolis and the Naval Academy for their exhibit on our naval war of 1812. If you are an historian of any kind it is a must. On to Charlottesville, VA for some family, then way up into West Virginia for a killed comrade in Vietnam and some family around DC. Virginia and my Long Island home to address some old friends and assess what Hurricane Sandy did to my little East Rockaway.
Out of Sacto and into Dulles is easily managed. As the jet descends into our national capital all sorts of mixed feelings about our nation’s capital, but I’m here to honor the brave Union soldiers who stood up at Gettysburg to save not just our democracy but democracy itself. Look up Lincoln’s first inaugural address. You’ll understand. I’ve swung up and down with the Lincoln man. All in with Abe, then why didn’t he prevent the war somehow, then all in again with his defense of democracy, the only one of its kind, for the rest of mankind, the democracy “of the people, by the people and for the people…” All the people…
Rental car the size of a BIC, all of us people still in love with our gasoline, trying to reduce the use with my BIC.
100°, heavy humidity. Welcome to the east in July.
Ever taste the traffic around DC? LA’s older brother, half-witted brother. It’s a grind going around to get north to north to Frederick, Maryland, the route a lot of the Rebs took to Gettysburg and Antietam earlier on in the slaughter.
Barbara Fritchie? “Who touches a hair on your gray head/dies like a dog/march on he said…” from Whittier’s poem of the Rebs passing through Yankee-ish Frederick, Civil War Maryland like a Civil War Balkans, bonding the two worlds of north and south, slave and free. Ms Fritchie and her like hanging out the Stars & Stripes as the Stars & Bars marched through town. Thus the poem. And here is where Lee forgot his special order. Tipping off the Yanks to his advance on Sharpsburg, ending in the one-day grand prize total of 23,000 casualties between the two armies.
Old Frederick is just that, brick and board, row house like, scrunched together narrow, church steeples, on the route of too many armies.
I’m in Motel 6, too many people over too long a time, shabby exterior, clean enough interior, thirty miles from Gettysburg.
Route 15 north in the morning. Trayvon Martin after the battle of Gettysburg. What we won, what we lost, but Route 15 is too gorgeous, too gentle to linger on the bad, gentle Appalachians in the distance, big farms big barns, big Greek column silos, back east bucolic; Lee’s got 75,000 heading north into Pennsylvania. Meade has 90,000 looking for Lee.
Jeb Stuart of the Reb cavalry is off on his own, the Union forces in between him and who he’s supposed to be spotting for, Lee and his army. The armies are going to find themselves by chance but not before I have a big buckle busting breakfast in Gettysburg.
Gettysburg has been overrun over the years by T-shirts, ghost tours and wax presidents. My version of a trooper’s biscuit and water breakfast would feed two platoons of troopers full to the belly. Time to thank the blue-bellies and regale the Rebs, again.
Stifling heat, like July 1863, not many folks around at 10am. Must be the heat.
Cool and calm in the very ample Visitors Center. I’ll do the movie and the cyclorama. Cyclorama? I’ll tell you after the film.
The film is Morgan Freeman, of course, narrating and Sam Waterston as Lincoln. It’s the events leading up to and including the three days of Gettysburg. Lee’s on a roll at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. If he can get a victory in the north, well, African-American ancestors spend a lot more time in chains.
Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln was fine and here Sam Waterston really gets that high-pitched voice of Lincoln. It all makes you weep. Even after all this here there’s still two years of it to go.
So, the cyclorama, a separate theatre, a 360° wall painting of Pickett’s charge, narrated and lit up as the events unfold. It’s all rather stunning, a French artist, Paul Dominique Philippoteaux, and his enormous painting, produced in France from notes and sketches of the battle veterans who were there. How could they have done all this to each other? To me the painting depiction seems too disjointed, units all over the place, fragmented when my image of it is a solid line of Yanks that the Rebs crash up against and flame out.
Today is my birthday, July 19th, hot and muggy. Onto the battlefield auto tour which is free. See, our National Parks are our pride.
It’s going to be tough just getting out of the air-conditioned car. Poor baby. I’m here for all the young baby teenage Americans who died beside me in Vietnam. I’m here guys, to pay my respects.
Tour buses and some visitors actually on bicycles in this heat. Beats on foot with musket and cannon.
Some green, somewhat burnt-over fields of Pennsylvania. McPherson’s Ridge first up.
Buford’s mounted Yanks are out nosing around the Rebs, who’ve been hidden behind the Blue Ridge, some of them have units advancing towards Gettysburg (looking for shoes as the story goes).
Buford’s way outnumbered but he’s got to dismount and deliver. Hold this line until Reynolds and his infantry can come up and join him.
Buford’s men have Spencer repeating rifles so they can pour in more fire than the massed musket Rebs, the Yanks standing and retreating until Reynolds and the Iron Brigade can join in the fight, the two armies blind to each other, stumbling in, Lee pissed off because he chose to choose the fighting ground, green fields and split rail fences, Rebs comin’ on, Yanks falling back, the two great armies, whether they wanted to or not, now committed, Day 1 a slaughterhouse of accident and courage, Reynolds killed, the Yanks pushed back through Gettysburg, the sunset the only respite.
Visitors in and out of their cars, kids on cannons, church steeples in the near distance, an eternal light peace memorial of a permanent strength in a perfect place for it.
Day 2 of the horror begins with the big armies moving, jockeying, fighting for position, lines being drawn, the Yanks taking up the higher ground on Culp’s Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and the Round Tops.
Longstreet tells Lee, begs Lee, not to do this. But Bob Lee knows best having kicked much Yankee ass in Virginia.
But the Yanks give as good as they get on the flanks. Major General Sickle of the Yanks does his own thing and moves his regiment forward from the Yank lines to what he considers a better position. Nope. The Rebs come from the wheat field, the peach orchard, and hack Sickle’s regiment to hell before they stumble back to their lines, while on Little Round Top Joshua Chamberlain of the 20th Maine, linguistic professor at Bowdoin College in Maine, stout Unionist, his unit out of ammo, Texans and Alabamans ready to crack his unit, flank the Yanks and possibly armistice the war, when Chamberlain orders his men to stand up, fix bayonets and charge.
The Rebs run, the Union preserved, other bodies stacked in the rocks of the Devil’s Den and at the base of Culp’s Hill on the right flank.
Day 3, July 3, and Lee still ain’t convinced. Longstreet still is. Don’t do it, General. But Bob knows best: I’ll use Pickett’s fresh troops to crack em open in the middle with Jeb Stuart from the rear eatin’ up their retreat.
Pickett’s charge. Into the valley of death. No one comes out whole and in the rear, George fuckin’ Armstrong Custer and his Michigan cavalry, Custer out front, where else, blow Jeb Stuart apart, Custer another hero of Gettysburg.
It’s a quiet cruise through the whole business, statues, cannons, fences and form fields, the Round Tops all gnarly and bouldery, solemnity, statue of Lee, strange, degrading.
It’s an honor for me on this 150. You men who gave everything. “Four score and seven years ago…” perhaps the finest speech in history completes the day.
Done, the day still young enough to continue on to Baltimore, all of it around here so close, Philadelphia, D.C., Baltimore, green hills and farms and barns giving way to I-95s and 295s and bridges and harbor tunnels and tolls, civilization after the silence of a battlefield, Baltimore made of bricks and church steeples, narrow streets, Ft. McHenry and the harbor, rainbow painted iron bridges, busy, busy, busy, thunder showers back east booming, hot and humid, searching unknowingly for the Baltimore Basilica from a PBS presentation. Latrobe, the architect of the nation’s capital, his signature basilica, Catholic, subdued, with a Wright light like his Unitarian in Oak Park, the basilica much in the same way of a Wright New England meeting Hall.
Grinding around streets never meant for cars, i.e., Boston, looking for the basilica, a cab driver helping out in accented English, finally a cop parked at the curb in one of our still all black neighborhoods. He gets me pointed and around two corners and there it is, our nation’s first basilica in Maryland, Land of Mary.
How to describe the basilica? Front porch like a White House, building itself like a Greek temple, two steeples like Russian Orthodox and a dome like Istanbul. Got it? Hope so.
Quiet as a church, empty, soothing, not unadorned but not crushingly so, soothing colors, a Jeffersonian dome, easy on your own home.
I feel blessed, blessed. My prior schoolboy Catholic life. If I’d had this? No, nature itself intervened, but in here I hear nothing but meditations. Maryland, Land of Mary. Church pews like a New England meeting house, like the “one or two if”…in Boston, the altar almost afloat in the cream colors, two sermon mounts like hollowed out chess bishops.
$3.00 to light a candle. I put in $1.00. Forgive me first off for this. “Better to light a candle and still hate all the darkness…”
There’s a blood red cardinal’s hat, round as a picadors, with long heavy tassels like a Spanish Pontiff’s hanging from the ceiling. Something dashing about it.
The crypt, below the altar, a brick catacomb with a religious icons and vestments exhibit. Cool, art wise and the weather outside.
Leveled off, able and willing to claw my way out of the city and further south out of Baltimore and Edgar Allan Poe’s place, which I missed, with enough old city black poverty on the way out to make up for it and on to Annapolis and the W1812 at the Naval Academy.
Something, something south to Annapolis. “A global force for good…?” Certainly in 1812, captured British battle flags from captured British ships of battle.
Green country highway, finally, after fighting with I-95 south.
I’ve been a lot to West Point as a boy, stunning setting above the Hudson River, march of the amazing soldier toys. Did a lot of time aboard ships in my Marine Corps Navy. Can be groovier than ground forces.
Into Annapolis, across the Severn River. Annapolis like Ben Franklin’s Hamptons, cobblestoned and compact, the continental navy does Sag Harbor on Long Island.
Slowly circling around the state’s capital, then and now. Wow, quietly around the quiet streets, getting the lay of the landlubber motel hunter.
Sun setting, hot, got to get in off the street, Super 8 on the edge of the woods up the road. Don’t want cash! What?! But will.
Burgers, sorry. No local cuisine. If you know me you know I’ve dined at the French Laundry but on the road under a motel roof, greasy, part 12 at least.
I can hardly sleep, knowing those captured British flags are out there. Our continental navy and our 1812 fleet. The British are the Roman Empire and we are from Connecticut and we kick their ass at sea, twice, John Paul Jones, our Bonhomme Richard against their Serapis off the coast of Madagascar! Our USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” in 1812 against their Java off the coast of Brazil! And we made them lower their colors.
Breakfast coffee in a tea shop like café along the Annapolis cobblestones. Free breakfast, if you can call a plastic wrapped donut, thin OJ and brown water coffee at the Super 8.
The 1812 exhibit is inside Gate #3 of the Naval Academy of 1785.
10 o’clock quiet on a Saturday morning, young naval MP on guard at the turn of the century gate. He’s all in a strange bluish camouflage. He does my driver’s license ID joking that I don’t have a beard in my photo. 9/11 stuff. He’s originally from Africa. His accent makes me ask. How many Americans in an African navy? What a country.
I’m in. Where is everybody, meaning the midshipman brigade? The campus is solemn, Athenian. A global force for good? For who? Who’s navy can contest us? Who on land will ever see us?
A gift shop? Sure enough, for the Naval Museum inside the Roman block of a building. Like ships, at sea, at war? Yes, yes, minus.
Those ships under sail? Would you? Could you? The British have 400 ships in New York harbor to kick off 1777, ready to rub us out. “Don’t give up the ship…” “I’ve not yet begun to fight…” and we did, putting to sea against Kings and Queens and monarchs. Here in this museum, the charts, the re-enactments, the broadsides, the giving way, the giving quarter, bravery, creating a country.
Ship models behind glass. You could sail these. I go through it all as far as TR’s “Great White Fleet,” odd cruel, Jules Verne like.
Now for the main hall, Mahan Hall, all Romanesque and square-jawed.
In the grand entrance hall, on the walls, behind glass, captured battle flags of our Spanish and British wars. I’m in awe, Union Jacks and Castilian colors. No matter how you may feel about how we created our U.S. selves, again, would you have gone down to the sea in wooden ships to take on the Brits? For me, I doubt it, but here it is, four score and six original frigates ago these Colonials did.
W1812. Who knows? Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans after peace was declared perhaps but, convincing the British empire once again that we are a nation now, one to be reckoned with, on lakes, on bays, on seas, the HMS Macedonia’s replicated masthead in our museum. Two captured cannons of the HMS Cyane, paintings and simulations, us being North Vietnam and the Brits being the U.S. You may have the guns but we got the guts, and my brother runs the tours at Monticello, VA and Thomas Jefferson, so let’s throw in the American Navy and the Barbary pirates of Tripoli for good measure. “A global force for good…” perhaps, and good for us.
Here’s a young female naval ensign officer. I ask her if she goes by midshipwoman. “No, we’re all midshipmen.”
Women in combat. Don’t get me started. How about nobody in combat?!
Down to the sea in ships. Compared to our drones and our aircraft carriers of today this was hook on, hold fast and blow up at extremely close quarters. Know why Marines are called “leathernecks?” High leather collars to prevent saber cuts. Much prefer a drone attack to Marines in the rigging firing muskets.
Silence on campus. Up above the long lawns, gathered around the famous Tecumseh statue, some of the brigade of young officer candidates in formation. I salute their forbears for bearing up under the guns of that “evil empire”!
The morning brings a respite from war. Any drive in Virginia is beautiful, if you forget that former Senator George Allen an the current VAAG Cuccinelli would slap us all in chains, again.
Charlottesville is familiar, where my family resides, 30 miles outside Nellysford, up against the Blue Ridge. 30 miles to just about everything but no way my brother and sister-in-law were going to retire in death camp Florida when you can have golf and swim and et al right here in Wintergreen, surrounded now by upscale brew pubs and Shenandoah National Park with some resort of resorts, Greenbrier, WVA, thrown in.
Parked for a few days of brew beer, golf, hearty home dinners, thunder and lightning thunderstorms up in the Blue Ridge on the Skyline in Shenandoah Park, shopping at an historic log cabin from the Appalachia that some folks lived in up to 1935! How do you judge the age of a log cabin? By the width of the logs. First come, first cut down the big trees and on down.
No Monticello itself on this trip but my brother drips with it, “the” man of all seasons of America, but Jefferson didn’t, or did he, invent large screen HDTV, front and center and my brother’s modern board cabin.
One of our conversations turned to Ogdensburg, New York, where Fredric Remington had his studio. I’ve been, drunk on his work.
My brother tells me of a Headless Horseman statue he saw in Middleburg, VA. One of a kind? Remington like. Hmmm.
But I have an appointment in Beech Bottom, WVA. I’ve had it since a December day in 1967 Vietnam. Joe Craft, 18 years old, blown up by a land mine booby-trap right in front of me. His grave, Beech Bottom, WVA, finally.
You think Virginia is beautiful? Try the West version. No, we don’t want to be in the Confederacy, so West VA. Look up some counties in Louisiana that said no to the Rebs. We ain’t got no slaves, why fight when our land sustains?
Way up in the green mountains of WVA, eventually above Charleston along beside the big brown of the Ohio River, heading for broken down Wheeling, Bethlehem, steel-less, coal company — less, and yet, up ahead, storm cloud steam from a nuke plant, then another, then another gargantuan, then Beech Bottom hardly noticed.
Turn around to it on Route 2, Beech Bottom about a mile long, that’s all.
It’s late in the warm sunny day. The brick village hall right off the two lanes is closed for the day. There’s a monument stone in front. Joe Craft’s name is on it. So, tomorrow. So, tonight in bricktown Wheeling in a $69 something beside the brown Ohio.
In the morning there’s a real ham&egger across the street. Wheeling is reeling according to the friendly owner who inherited from his father who… He runs down Wheeling’s ills. It ain’t Detroit, yet, but…
There’s an iron bridge across the Ohio that a steam train would feel most comfortable on, my little rental in its place.
Beech Bottom, nuclear plant right across the river, open for business, not exactly brand new. My business here is respect.
There’s gentleman in the village hall who knew Joe. He says the town of not very many never recovered. How could it? This gentleman directs me up to the hilltop cemetery, a bit up and out of the little town.
It’s a country cemetery minus the weathered headstones, two gentlemen tending the grounds. I inquire of Joe’s grave but they can’t be sure. OK, sure.
I didn’t bring flowers. I brought marijuana. Shoulda been there Joe. I sprinkle some in the air.
That done, home to Charlottesville by way of Morgantown. Poor Joe. Poor everyone involved with LBJ and Nixon.
Quiet night in the woods with the family. They’re off in the morning to Myrtle Beach, miniature golf capital of the South, for more family. I’m off in the morning to my adopted family in Oakton, VA, suburb of DC.
Route 11 north along the Shenandoah valley where Civil War armies marched up and down, breathtaking valley of abundance, up to Winchester for a day and night, brand new Motel 6, and a drive along Route 50 to Middleburg, VA like a Ralph Lauren polo wardrobe come to life, and Middleburg itself like a horse-jumping inland empire of the Hamptons.
A Visitors Center like a colonial’s snuff box. Yes, we have the Sporting Museum, meaning horses.
Up on a green hill, looking almost brand new Tom Jeff brick.
Entrance fee so no, only here for the Ichabod statue which is down in the cottage-like whitewashed library.
Nobody around, looking around. Ah-ha, there it is, on a table in a side-bar reading room, the library immaculate, not a single homeless person. Sorry to say, it’s a relief.
Ichabod’s on the run, skinny dude, holding on to a skinny Rocket for dear life, the dark and always terrifying headless horseman right on his tail, the Prussian ghost or Brom Bones in disguise, you decide, pumpkin head raised, the two of them pounding along in place. Not a Remington, how could it be, but near enough, near enough.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is part of me, part of all of us with a Rip Van on the side. For another day to come.
Today with Oakton’s Long Island friends. Tried for the Quantico Marine base and some Semper Fi history but got stuck in traffic and around here it can choke you to death.
Oakton, VA is slumber suburbia, quiet and leafy, well to do if you are doing well enough, somewhat well below that 1%.
Comfortable with a big steak dinner to celebrate some us and some us birthdays. Not like an old shoe or a slipper, more like a comfortable shirt, minus the tie, the vest, the jacket and shorts for slacks. Yakkity-yak — do talk back.
Saturday lolling with a most pleasant surprise: Wolf Trap Farm Park, National Park For The Performing Arts. Don’t that sound nice. A musical tribute to Ansel Adams and more. There’s going to be some recited Lincoln. My friends had to think of me because of Gettysburg.
Looling in the community pool, humid thunder clouds a gray cover.
Dinner, in a local mini-mall Greek cafeteria like, is moussaka, the Greek lasagna, with ethnic pride.
Pride, American pride made into music, Wolf Trap nestled in a Virginia hollow, classy and comfortable, Aaron Copeland, Dave Brubeck and son, Ansel Adams, John Williams, George Gershwin, Marvin Hamlisch, Lincoln. It’s all so appropriate as to where I’ve been it had to be. My hosts, as I’ve said had to agree.
Those announcement brass sounds that only mean Aaron Copeland and his tribute to the Common Man. Man alive, bursting with American pride. Then some Gershwin’s American In Paris, sweet, noisy, busy, our American from Brooklyn. Then John Williams from Lincoln with speeches by Virginia Senator Mark Warren. “Four score and…” I was just there. American pride in the air.
Clouds over Yosemite Valley. Ansel Adams projected on a big screen. Dave Brubeck and his son wrote an ode to that American Adams. Dig it, realize, recognize it. We done good here in the states. The National Symphony from D.C. is doing real good supplying the music for all of it.
Some woman other than Barbra Streisand comes out to sing “The Way We Were.” Bravo!
It all ends with an audience sing along of one of our “fruit plains or purple mountains…” A little dorky after all the masters, the orchestra maestro unknown to me. He ain’t Lenny, meaning Bernstein, so who could he be?
George Mason. Know him? His historic home. My hosts, Jan and Mike wonder if I’d be interested. A resounding huzzah from me and we are off to a big Greek diner for a big breakfast before a heavy day of touring, learning, knowing.
A diner back east, the servers are nuns and the short order chef the priest, our young tennis pro looking blonde server from Ukraine. The boys at Gettysburg did good. She’s here as a living proof.
More living proof, then, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Gunston Hall, home of George Mason. You may have heard of his university in Virginia but how about him? One of our revolutionary big shots left off the rolls, left off the signing of the Constitution.
He wouldn’t sign. Why? Let’s take a tour of the house and find out.
His estate is a Masterpiece Theatre set piece, long lawns and avenues between trees, a split and polish Visitors Center and good shady walk up to his Hall, small by Mount Vernon and Monticello standards but a very landed gentleman in a Ben Franklin block of a house.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit…” Tom Jeff lifted those lines from George Mason’s Virginian Declaration of Rights. George Mason and George Washington petitioned George III to lay off. Courage.
Squire Mason looked like a typical portrait of that time, sort of chubby, ruddy, wigged up, sort of dull looking, but he was anything but, one of those gentlemen who wrote and wrote, had a dozen kids thousand of acres of tobacco, a founding father who was dismissed by the big shots because no Bill of Rights in original Constitution, nothing concerning slaves, of which he was guilty of, too much centralized power and at least 14 more complaints and in Washington’s case, Mason didn’t serve in combat. So, John Hancock he wasn’t and yet he was.
His home sits above the Potomac where cargo ships could dock. You can see a piece of the big river from his back door. Mount Vernon is down the block.
Mason’s home was colonial comfort, fine china, fine silver, fine dining, slaves to do the bidding.
We’re basically alone, adding to the living history of it. He practically owned Tidewater Virginia and Maryland with some Delaware thrown it. Now the estate is about 500 acres of park interpretation. What a discovery, my host Jan a school librarian preparing a pamphlet on George Mason.
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit…” George Mason would be proud of our morning’s Ukrainian.
Dinner with another Long Island friend, female type, no fences to mend, long divorced, long living with same guy, my long longing for her but still stuck to each other, Jerry and Elaine without the priors, some more Greek in Arlington, VA, a tribute to the common denominator of friends through it all.
Through it all I’ve separated myself from a lot of friends. Politics, mine, and unfortunately, theirs: handguns, racial remarks, homophobia, flags in cars, supporting the draft, voting for Palin — stuff like that.
I’m headed to Long Island to open up one of those fences I built. I’m guilty of wanting the world a certain way, my way. I guess I’ve made some sow ears from former silk purses, so home to check out Hurricane Sandy’s damage and undo some of my damage. My god-daughter got caught up in my misgivings. Fortunately for me these folks are not even forgiving, they were, are, open arms always.
To get to Long Island from around D.C. stay off I-95 at all cost. Head north again on Route 15 through Gettysburg to Harrisonburg, swooping along through bounty’s farmland, always green, always 65-70mph, gas at $3.79, 287 to 78, turn right out of Pennsylvania for New Jersey. Jet travel and car travel, anywhere is possible.
Jersey is Garden State until the outer-skirts of Staten Island. The roads get ornery, crowded, squeezed, tolls that take your toll.
It’s all worth it as the tall towers of the Verrazano Bridge appear up ahead. We all love the Golden Gate but this, like an Olympic female broad jumper in full extension across the Henry Hudson narrows.
And behold, Oz, off to your left, Manhattan Island, Statue of Liberty, Empire State building, et al., the chessboard of Manhattan, and the new World Trade Center tower not half as intrusive as the Twin Towers.
The broad jumper lands you on Long Island and the Belt Parkway, bumping and undulating, the rescued and restored Parachute Jump on Coney Island an Eiffel Tower of the beachfront.
Salt marshes, sea birds, Kennedy Airport, Sunrise Hiway, home, Valley Stream, Lynbrook, Rockville Centre, open house.
And my friends open up Long Island, the beaches, some of the finest, the diners, the delicatessens, potato salad and macaroni salad, chapels of it.
Night one in a local Italian restaurant howling over Larry David. Long Island, sarcasm is language and an Italian meal with Italians by Italians. Manga like a motherfucker.
Oh, how young we were, softball until it came out of our ears, the Fillmore East, sports until we nosebleed from it all. Good to be home.
Home here, Rockville Centre, middle upper-scale Christian/Catholic, beautiful leafy neighborhoods, suffered terribly from 9/11: stockbrokers, firemen, cops in towers. I knew them all if not by name. There are tribes here and I was of those bands, having been a Nassau County cop here and for a brief a stockbroker, our stories of each other here spilling out, spilling over the rim of laughter, Joe and me and Lori.
Joe and me for Long Beach, East Rockaway, the roads so familiar I almost weep. How many years away. Too many to count.
Summer life here was Huck and Tom and beautiful Beckys, drinking by fourteen (18 was legal then), wild, not so many apartment houses to service Manhattan yet.
Hurricane Sandy covered these roads in boats from the nearby marinas and now the marinas have been refilled, Peter’s Clam Bar on its channel as it always was, on over the bridge over Reynolds Channel with our history of heading out to the open sea for blue fishing, drinking and puking.
Long Beach, a city, with a city smell, urban, saltwater scent and some decay, days of jumping the boardwalk without paying, Ferris wheel, miniature golf, good use of youth.
Malibu Beach Club, family lockers and rows of black boiler-pot-BBQ grills like alien landings on the beach sand behind the low sand dunes.
Lifeguard stands that have always stood, big ships out at sea waiting to come on into Hudson’s harbor, warm sun, warm sand, beach chairs, Joe and my life shared, waist deep in the surf, Tuesday. We’ll take it.
Taking our time, home for me to East Rockaway, my high school back in play after bad Sandy, still small, still brick, still quaint, be still my Huckleberry heart.
My streets, my creeks, my canals were bounced around but all seems calm, all the boats moored to their docks, Swift Creek gleaming, in between its deep green reeds, Hewlett Beach still very informal on formal Hewlett Bay.
T-shirts, shorts, sandals, service. A diner on Long Island, chicken salad on rye with gigantic coke, senior citizen Jewish. Ahhh, so frickin’ authentic.
Authentic Italians, Joe and Lori in Italy, Lori compiling a family history dating from 1593. Show me, show me, any history, any history.
Now get this” one of their tours of Italy was Frank Sinatraed: four times somewhere in Italy with a Frank in a Pompeii finale. Frank could have stopped the lava and ash with just a wink of his blue eyes — or with his mob connections of course.
Family. My god-daughter’s four-year old daughter has a, wait for it, lacrosse clinic.
Pretty little Nicole carries a pink lacrosse stick. Now you know you’re on Long Island, where lacrosse is not exactly king but surely a member of the royal court.
Young parents today: soccer camp, surfing camp, basketball camp, Nike gear head to toe, one little girl here on the manicured fields of Hampstead Lake State Park all in Ralph Lauren, high school lacrosse stars too cool for school in charge, sweet as can be, older age kids all in lacrosse protection like little Star Was soldiers.
My god-daughter Melissa, named for the beautiful Allman Brothers song, is a beauty I haven’t seen in many, many years. My sins are well known but I’m welcomed home. And we ain’t done yet, another grand kid, Joseph, in little kid co-ed hoops camp, a mishmash of shouts and encouragement from adults. Me too.
We dine on pasta and meatballs at home. Italian food wins all food wars. For my junior college graduation Lori’s gift to me was home made lasagna. I’m as comfortable as a clam in clam sauce.
Another day at the beach, Long Beach again to see how the rebuilding of the boardwalk is going, gray and rain expected, wind blowing, jetties as old as Hadrian’s Wall, brand new boards in place, bicyclists and pedestrians, high rise apartments, all the amusement park attractions all swept away, but all our memories remain, hot dogs, shooting galleries, summer sunsets and Labor Day like a feast day.
Feast, backyard BBQ with the whole family, for me, beautiful Joanna and Melissa and their beautiful children and son Jackie and his beautiful son Jake. I am privileged to be among them. I’m from California. I am an exotic to them, still with a local accent.
My next locale is Manhattan, for the MET, for Brady photos of the Civil War and Winslow Homer the same.
People love giving directions, especially when Google can do it literally door to door.
“The many roads I’ve covered/the many trails I’ve burned…” so familiar, so rewarding to be on them as the stock-chart skyline of Manhattan rises up beyond the ornate Queensborough Bridge, now know as the Ed Koch, former Manhattan mayor, bridge. No one calls it that of course, always the Queensborough or the 59th Street to all of us still. Even our Triborough is now RFK. Nope, never, going over the Queensborough like a couple of Queen crowns fused together, honking and squeezing on, over the East River, Kramer swimming along (see Seinfeld) Roosevelt Island, the UN slab, 60th St. to Madison to 81st to 5th to parking under the MET, cabs like swarming bees, trucks, limos parked where they sort of please, gone under and inside our Louvre.
Mobbed, European mobbed; lots of us too but languages, languages. George Mason would be proud.
The MET was always too much so I head through the Roman columns and the Greek heads to the rather odd entrance to the Civil War, through some antique Asian stuff, to a canvas camp tent recreation like Brady in the field.
Somber, not a lot of laughs or smiling faces, black and white silver like, death with destruction; Lincoln, Lee, soldiers posing in studios for almost yearbook settings, impossible to realize what is to come. First photos from the front. Gulp. Some so famous, the dead horses of Fredericksburg, the bloated corpses of Gettysburg, the burnt out shell of Richmond, the Confederate dead on Mary’s Heights, the ramparts of Atlanta, Fort Sumter, a family photo album of us at each other’s throat.
The bombastic canvas of American places of Frederic Church ease the pain. The soothing yet serious Winslow Homers ease you into and out of the pain, a pride in each of his paintings regardless the situation.
Google maps get you out of any situation you’re not so familiar with. North to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hallow, the Headless Horseman, Rip Van Winkle. Our literature begins, with an emphasis on our Washington Irving begat Mark Twain.
Rain hard. Good, Sleepy Hollowish, memories of Disney’s cartoon of it, with Bing Crosby voiceover. It scared me then and still does.
Grinding past the George Washington bridge traffic. As I always tell folks, like everyone who knows NY only as Manhattan, once you cross the GW you in Washington Irving country. And, again, where was Woodstock?
Slowly the city slips away, not too far away the Hudson River shows its real self, wide and handsome with signs for the Tappan Zee Bridge, meaning Dutch, meaning you’re in the ghosts of it.
It’s pretty swanky up here, small river townie and tonie, busier than I thought, always with the idea that those Dutch bowlers with their kegs of ale are still nearby. Henry Hudson’s crew.
But a bit more subdued as you enter Sleepy Hollow, an actual real place and mythical, a “duende” in Spanish place, across the Headless Horseman bridge, above the weathered headstone cemetery where Washington Irving is, born 1783, never dead, named for you who.
Boo! The Headless Prussian is here where Irving heard the Dutch tales from his Mr. Knickerbocker.
There’s an historic estate, there’s an historic stone Dutch church. There’s a gift shop attached to the historic estate besides its millpond, everything soaking wet with atmosphere.
Copies of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Rip Van Winkle awake.
Two lane green on past Sleep Hollow Golf club behind its pompous entrance, open, empty, luxury, clubhouse on a hill like a chunk of Versailles, so exclusive maybe the members aren’t even allowed. A very neat eat-off-it course, rainy day empty; the horseman would have a field day.
Now for Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home. $12 to see Washington Irving’s rather lush estate. So I watch the film in a barn like theatre. This dude was rich, with talent and coin, selling Jack London volumes of his books, his American books, with a dose of his diplomatic time in Spain, a well traveled gentleman who lives on in all us Americans.
I’ll be forever in my brother’s debt for bringing up Ichabod and the one who rides headless through all time.
Time to start heading home to California so slowly back to Long Island for one last night of home with a cruise over the Throgs Neck Bridge, another beauty setting with New England to the left, far off Manhattan to the right and a stop in a deli in Cedarhurst of the Five Towns, like the Seven Cities of predominantly Jewish gold. I can say that: as Lenny Bruce said, “if you’re from the five boroughs and you’re not Jewish, you are… but if you’re Jewish and from Ithaca, you’re not…” I include Long Island in that.
One last night in Oakton, VA for an Italian restaurant and a lump of lasagna. How fitting.
The flight home is drudgery of course, but not the soldiers of Gettysburg.