Sunday, June 17, 2007

Gotta Love the Jitney!

I finally made it out of the City for the weekend.

Billy invited me to his place in the East Hamptons for a weekend of guaranteed R&R with him and a friend, Jonah. Part of the "ritual" of the "Manhattan Summer-Weekend Escape" is the actual leaving. The Hampton Jitney bus has provided unparalled service from Manhattan (and now Brooklyn) to the Hamptons since the early 70's and the jitney ride has become part of this ritual for many.

Laden with gifts [two quarts of pickles (1 half-sour, 1 sour) and a bottle of fresh horseradish] for my host purchased from my LES neighbors, The Pickle Guys, and sporting my brand new Stingy brim hat (yes, it looks damn good), I boarded the 5:30 p.m. jitney at 40th Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenues, bound for East Hampton. Prior to boarding the bus, I dropped my bag as I was putting it down and thought I heard a crack. I looked in quickly, and saw the horseradish on top, which was in fine shape. Hmmm. I entered the bus, found a seat (by myself - Yes!) and settled in for the ride, light reading and fully charged iPod ready to go.

We were traveling down 2nd Avenue and hadn't made it more than three blocks before I was overwhelmed by the unmistakable smell of (you guessed it) pickles! The stench was strong and distinct, although I couldn't quite detect whether the smell came from the sour, or the half-sour; perhaps it was a lovely combination of both. Apparently that sound had been the plastic quart container splitting open. I refused to look and acted as oblivious as possible.

This is where the difference between traveling from NYC to the Hamptons and traveling to Fire Island becomes more striking. If I had been on van going from the train station to the Ferry or on the actual Ferry leg of the trip to Fire Island, someone would have screamed "Some bitch needs to shut her legs," but on the Jitney the perfectly surgeon-sculpted noses merely perked and turned ever-so-slightly in my general direction. I'm not yet sure which I prefer. I'm not going to relay any more of this leg of the trip, but will say I felt every second that passed intimately. It was as though time had slowed and I was trapped in a pickle barrel and there were moments that it took all the self-discipline I had not to stand up and ask if anyone wanted a pickle. I suffered silently, paying pennance by denying myself the iPod, lest I miss hearing some random comment about dill.

As I exited the bus, my ears craning for the sound of applause that I was sure would erupt upon my departure, I saw Billy looking very much like the worried parent of an errant camper. Big smile, big hug -- I'm here. As we walked away, he yelled back to a woman he had been talking to wishing her a nice weekend. She looked exactly like Mercedes Ruehl. "Who's that?", I asked. "Mercedes Ruehl," he said. "We were talking about her last show and how much I loved it." Mystery solved.

We made it to his house and settled in for a light dinner with another friend of Billy's, Peter, an interior designer. It's remarkable; there must be the highest per capita ratio of interior designers within 10 miles of East Hampton. Each time I've been out there, I've met at least 2 interior designers. How do they survive? We finished the night with drinks outside by the goldfish-stocked lilypad pond looking at the stars. Looking at the stars! You can actually see them out there. It's amazing.

I woke up hearing sounds of someone in the kitchen -- the tinkling of glass, the shuffle of slippers on the floor. It's a weekend/vacation sound that I adore. When it's accompanied with the smell of brewing coffee, well forget it. When I realized what it was, I smiled. Then, for a split second, I was hit by a wave of sadness, because it's a sound I hadn't heard since I had started living alone again. That shit is capable of rearing its head whenever and wherever. Whatever, I decided, and jumped up, snagged the paper, poured my coffee and sat outside in my undies in the early morning sun reading. I was in heaven. When did this become a luxury?

We made it to the Hamptons' version of the gay beach before noon and stayed until 4:00 p.m.. The crowd was mixed, attractive to be sure, but not blatantly cruisy. Nothing beats a beach picnic lunch of a cold roast beef sandwich, chips and ice-cold Coca Cola. And, yes, I'm Irish, it's a beach, there's a sun -- I burned. I could hear my mother saying, "It's your own damn fault" as I lathered on the cream, too late. She hates when I sunburn, and of course she's the one with the Portugese and American Indian versions of the family's genetics.

Billy, Jonah and I returned to the house for a couple of hours of Billy's musical choices; he's a disco / show-tune queen with an unmatchable repetoire and CD collection. We were tickled, awed and moved to tears listening to his music, while he ran between the kitchen and living room to keep us entertained. Speaking of running -- run, do not walk, and buy "Lena Horne: The Lady & Her Music," the original Broadway cast recording from her 1981 show of the same name for which she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical and a Special Tony Award that year. Incomparable. And believe it or not, her repartee in between the songs is as entertaining as her singing. [Note: I recently learned that David LeShay worked as General Press Associate on the show; what didn't that production have going for it I ask???]

Billy also played some Nina I'd never heard, which I honestly didn't think was possible. He played her final album, "A Single Woman," which includes her version of "Papa Can You Hear Me?". Yes, the song from "Yentl." And if Barbra Streisand ever, ever utters the lyrics to this song again, it will be clear to me that she has not yet heard Nina's version, which is the definitive recording of that song. No one will ever be able to touch it again -- not Barbra, not anyone. It left me numb and mumbling -- think "Little" Jimmy Scott wailing "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" or Billie Holliday suffering through "Strange Fruit" -- that kinda numb and mumbling. The strong, uncomfortable sense that one is simultaneously isolated from, but undeniably connected to, the human race. The experience of listening to songs like these affirms in me the belief that, at their best, music and poetry are divinely inspired and capable of healing.

We awoke on Sunday with time left only for a little more gossiping, coffee, sun, oxygen and Billy's swan song, sing-a-long with Little Edie on her 11:00 o'clock, kick-you-in-the-guts number from the "Grey Gardens" soundtrack, "Another Winter in a Summer Town." A breathtaking performance by both; there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

I rode the noon jitney home, sans pickles, with Rufus Wainwright whispering, with iPod assistance, in my ear.

Thank you Billy!

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