east hampton deer cull

"The Stargazer," a famous sculpture in Manorville, signalling one's entry to the East End
“The Stargazer,” a famous sculpture in Manorville, signalling one’s entry to the East End

THEY CALL IT A ‘CULL.’ Any other person would term it “slaughter.” And soon slaughter will come to the Town of East Hampton, on the East End of Long Island. The town of second residences, of the Seinfelds and Spielbergs and Baldwins. And the town of many deer. Too many of our antlered and un-antlered friends, according to some, including the local government. They damage precious landscaping, and ravage un-fenced crops, and carry dreaded ticks harboring Lyme disease. And so federal sharpshooters will arrive next month and the one after that, to eliminate 2,000-3,000 deer of a herd estimated at between 25,000 to 30,000.

It is a problem, true. In East Marion on the North Fork downwind of the Blue Inn, lies an adult female deer. Hit by a car, but with no noticeable injury, frozen in a quasi-fetal position. Each time I have passed its glistening, glazed over corpse, I have at first glance thought it a discarded lawn ornament, only to see the reflection of the headlights in its still open eyes and realize, “Oh my God, it’s real.” Deer are large creatures, some approaching the size of a human, many others much bigger. These are not flattened birds or opossum guts. When the deer lie sprawled on the side of the road, it’s not hard to imagine limp, dead people in their places.

The irony is the people who drive the cars that hit them are likely on their way to the Greek restaurant across the way for some tasty gyros, or to the IGA in Greenport to pick up some burgers or Italian sausages. All of that money, wasted. All of that time, wasted. Venison is a lean, savory protein source and, like it or not, it is right there,  splayed out on the side of the road. But from what I understand the collected dead deer are actually transferred to dumping grounds, beyond the sight of some of the major local highways. The trucks back in and dump the bodies on top of the other fermenting bodies. And I do wonder — what will they do with all of those 3,000 deer once the sharpshooters take them down? The fact that there are federal sharpshooters willing to slaughter these animals — “cull” as they put it — shows that people will do anything for money. But if they are going to kill all those animals, at least the good people of the Town of East Hampton could get some warmth and nutrition out of it.

The only thing that I am grateful for in all of this, is that I do not live in the Town of East Hampton. I’m over here across the Peconic Bay in Southold Town, and Southold Town doesn’t feel like much of a town anyway. The North Fork is isolated, insulated, clubby. People in Southold proper refer to the Village of Orient — a 15 minute drive away — as “all the way out there.” And this is another one of the instances where I am glad I live “all the way out there.”

a true east end conundrum

A SNOW STORM! Some even say a “polar vortex.” Yes, it is cold out there, but people from colder climes with whom I am domiciled are laughing at you America, “You call it a vortex, we call it January!” There is panic, danger is afoot. In the Orient Post Office, the lady from Peconic informs, “I drove 20 miles per hour, all the way out here.” Heads shake. Disbelief! The causeway is cause for concern, with invisible sea on either side. There are many accidents, and even your tank-like Town and Country is no match for the slushy wushy. It trips up the breaks and you pull into the neighbor’s front yard all astonished.

In the evening, among the sheets white coming down, snowflakes so fine that you can only see them in the lantern lights, a call is received. “This is a message from Superintendent So-and-So,” says a voice over a crackly connection. “School for [RANDOM DATE INSERTED HERE] has been cancelled.” What the? I knew it was a bad storm, but can’t they just clean the roads? There aren’t many kids out here in this nape of the way, neck of the land, and there are only two school buses. But then I recalled that Superintendent So-and-So and Principal Who’s-it-What’s-it live on the SOUTH FORK. They ride the Shelter Island ferries to work. This must be the reason! The South Forkers can’t get to work, and no Southies equals no Schoolie.

It’s a true East End conundrum. Up island, the transit is between places on a map — the depot of home improvements, the authority of sports, but out here, down island, these places on the map are surrounded by water — Shelter Island, Robins Island, Gardiners Island. These are the American maritimes. To the east lies Plum Island and Fishers Island and Great Gull Island, and then there is Block Island and farther beyond you encounter those tasty Wampanoag names, Cuttyhunk, Penikese, Nashawena, and then even farther on, the gay bluffs of Aquinnah. Ferries matter out here among the trees and seasonal seafood restaurants. They matter.

But they never stopped running. The supermarket in Greenport is one of few stores open the following day, and the lady who talks all the time has made it to work. She lives on Shelter Island {“You know, not everybody on Shelter Island is rich” she said once while bagging my provisions} and today she is ever as blabberful, with the old-timey, “I remember the California oil spill back in ’64, remember that?”} “I’m surprised to see you here,” I said. “I thought they cancelled the  ferries.” “No, the ferries never stop running,” she says. “Only if you get a moon tide or something will they cancel the ferries, but not last night.” “But they cancelled school. I figured they cancelled the schools because the ferries weren’t running.” “Oh no,” a wise-old chortle. “They cancelled school because they are afraid of lawsuits. If someone gets in an accident on the way to school, then the district is liable.” “You can really sue district for that?” “Sure, because the district ‘made them’ come in in such awful conditions.” “In this state you really feel the law on your neck all the time, huh.” “It’s the land of lawyers, all right,” she belly laughs. “Credit or Debit?”

to the skeleton crew on the lirr

JOHNNY’S THE MAN, with the flowing yellow tie and the timeless mustache. From the second deck of the eastbound Long Island Railroad train he regales his fellow passengers with tales of the early days of his commute in the sepia-toned waning hours of the Nixon Administration. At least until the train reaches Kings Park and he gets off this amusement park ride gone terribly wrong to head to his suburban castle. Johnny doesn’t drink but the vultures who crowd around the WC do, they nurse their Bud Lights from paper bags, as if we can’t see the shiny blue metal beneath. These three kings of commuter land have slicked back thinning hair and show purple where the cheek meets the eye. Along with their comical attempt at business attire, they display the paunch of the modern professional, a calling that requires many decades of sitting on one’s ass. “Oh, well,” they sigh. “Gotta earn a living …”

And this is what they sacrifice it for — telephone wires and half extinguished neon signs, 99 cent discount stores and greasy hamburger joints. I did that, too, I think, but I only lasted a month and a half before we rushed into Hoboken with its sometimes quick PATH connection. I’d wake up and scrape the ice from the windows of the station wagon and then I’d run out of gas on the way to Ronkonkoma station. Then I’d walk to the Hess station and buy a plastic container and fill it with Regular Unleaded and then walk all the way back to the car and fill it up with my numb fingers on the plastic and metal. The reenergized fuel tank would show a quarter of a tank and I’d think, “Ah, just enough,” that look of contentedness, just enough to get me on the next train, to buy my coffee and doughnut, to let Bebel Gilberto massage my aching soul through my headphones …

Forty-five days. That’s all it took for me to give up on that life. And yellow-tie man’s been here since The Godfather, Part II.

What the hell, right? Don’t bash on the commuter, that beleaguered martyr of wing-tipped Manhattanite dreams. You think he wants to sit on this train? No. He has to. Or at least he has convinced himself that he has to, and those around him are passionate in their agreement. Yes, we have to. And at the same time, you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t get in lock step with the rest of the human race. You thought there had to be another way. Career opportunities await in San Francisco or Juneau or Bozeman, places with a better view. “Oh, but my family …” But your family consists of Americans who left other continents to come here. They’ll just have to understand. “Oh, but my career.” Remember those vast graveyards in Queens? That’s what God thinks of your career.

Into this walks a woman with an Eastern face that reminds me of old drawings of Genghis Khan, with maroon pants and Inuit boots and a rough flannel jacket and a mariners wool hat. She stands among the living dead and speaks to someone through some device and then stands there and watches the windows, avoiding the glances of the skeleton crew on the LIRR. I glance at her too, and I see that her eyes are alert, as if she has also stepped out of an alternate reality into this soul-muddying one, and she looks back at me, trying to discern my intent, as if I was checking her out, which I am not sure if I am. All I can think, is that I am grateful that there are other living people here on this train of the dead like her. Alive on the train of the dead. In such a place, they are easy to spot. They shine like angels.

i think i’ll go back to san juan

IT CAME OVER ME  a few years ago in a little dive of a record store off Dupont Circle in Washington, DC, a place so starved for space that the recorded output of Ziggy, Damian AKA Jr. Gong, Ky-Mani, Stephen, and Julian was grouped together under one sign, “Sons of Bob Marley.” And in that store I picked up my copy of Willie Colón’s album Cosa Nuestra. Carefully, cautiously. It had a menacing cover, a mercenary man with mustache and sinister trombone case standing over a body on a pier with a rock tied to its foot. Bad shit. And, let’s not forget, it was in Spanish.

I glanced over my shoulder and caught the clerk eyeing from me and set the disc down. “No, it’s not what you think. I mean, I’m not.” But I was just too curious to pass it up, and after that, things were never quite the same. My car was a roving salsa party. Ching ching ching, ching ching ching. I grasped for the wandering piano patterns, felt the bass skip about in that definitive way, so sublime you couldn’t tell if those strings were plucked or merely inferred notes, music you thought you heard but was never really there. True majesty.

There was a nurturing of the inner Latino, in those early Willie Colón days, especially, when I was in my old ‘hood on Long Island, I would roll the windows down, because I knew how much the local Anglos and wannabe Anglos detested the Latinos who were taking over their country with their swinging dance music and outdoor family parties and seven children and 42 grandchildren and 307 great grandchildren, and I wanted them to hear that trombone and Hector Lavoie’s boogaloo voice. They were like audiokinetic hand grenades — “Take that, you pretentious country club pricks, and that, and that, and that!” BAM! They went over. BANG! They went down. Dead, deceased. Slayed by the trombone of Willie Colón and his Cosa Nuestra. Or so I imagined.

But the frosting came the other night in the real San Juan, the day after “Three Kings’ Day,” when they children flitted about the Condado Beach park, trying out their new skateboards and roller skates and soccer balls, little Antonios and Andreses and Carolinas and Catalinas being chased by parents who seemed joyous and content and so far away from the petty clannish conflicts of the norte-americanos and who I only caught glancing into the absorbing soul sucking mirrors of the so-called smart phones in a few instances, because who needs a phone when you can have a park in San Juan? Palm trees, great big trunks of other kinds of trees that seemed to be one hundred percent roots, all decorated up with blue and white Christmas lights in night weather that still made you sweat at nine o’clock.  With true affection, the local mothers with their toothy white smiles fawned over my little Maria — “A Spanish name!” “One of us!” — but did I really care to remind them that it was an Italian name and even a Swedish one?

The braided child Sanjuaneros poked at her and prodded at her with curiosity — Who is this little blue-eyed Maria girl? — but they were always kind and playful and inclusive. In Maria’s little blue eyes, I saw two-year-old wonder, and the reflections of the Christmas lights and the street lamp lights, and the Three Kings’ felicitations. And when the breeze picked up and the palms rustled, I thought I could heard the distant salsa music playing down the street, even if it was that special, inferred music I was telling you about, those melodies and rhythms you can hear but that aren’t really there.


IT’S A PITY that I shaved because Williamsburg is for the unshaven. Not that I ever set out in my life to match myself up to some kind of image {Like those three fellas over there, the ones with the wire mustaches and wispy beards and Where’s Waldo? hats, standing outside that vintage clothing boutique} but I had taken to keeping it hairy when I lived in Estonia because it was cold and I had children, and I’d get about half of the fuzz off before I had to go intervene in some domestic unrest, leaving me with half a beard, so it made sense to just buzz the fuzz. Which is what I had set out to do the night before my daughter’s birthday, except I forgot the attachable comb on the groomer and took a chunk off the beard, leaving me with no choice but to …

Yet it was not enough to undo the fact that I was listening to the 13th Floor Elevators when I was 16 {Thank you very much} and the MC5 before that. You can take the facial hair off the hipster, but he will ooze and reek hipness nevertheless. “It’s so weird,” says Epp eyeing lanky thirtyish men with tormented expressions and facial hair. “All of these guys. They all look like you.” “What’s that, honey? Hey, could you move out of the way? I want to take a picture of the Konditori Swedish Espresso Bar.” “Why?” “So that I can show it to my Swedish friends.” “What Swedish friends are you talking about?” “Um, Elias.”

Epp loves Williamsburg. She cherishes it, relishes it, the same way she beholds the steam off her coffee. Oooh. Ah … I don’t think she ventured within a few blocks of the vaunted yellow Mini-Mall on Bedford Avenue. {“Three dollar books?!”} And then there were the two mandala traps — the Tibetan shops. Uh oh. She didn’t stand a chance. There was also the matter of the banana and peanut butter and brown bread sandwiches {“See, Estonian bread is becoming really popular. We should import that …”} Ah, is this our future? The Hipster Estonian Bread Merchants? {Or is that just the name of my new band?}

Ah, yes, graffiti. Ah, sigh, yes, stinked up toilets and funked up telephone booths {“And I bought some ginger elixir at the grocery — organic ginger, organic turmeric, organic this and organic that, oh, and organic carrot and organic garlic juice”}  Ah, yes! Stunning Brooklyn Fox Lingerie models in the frosted windows with the sparkling What Does The Fox Say? foxy masks. “Hmph, I wanted to go to New York City,” says the ten year old, thinking Toys ‘R’ Us amusement park or Wizards of Waverly Place. “But Brooklyn is New York City,” comes the paternal-hipster-parental reply. “It is?” “It is.” And, yes it is a gathering point mecca for poseurs. But I am a poseur {“Hey, I didn’t mean to shave, guys, it was an accident“} and I am just fine with that now.