The Sarge and I were sitting in his big black truck at the Southampton 7-Eleven—that meeting place of our solar system, what with all the permutations of humanity that flow through there—chatting about what kind of truck I should buy, a Toyota or a Chevy, for those times when my ’77 Sportster decides it wants to ride instead of run. I asked the Sergeant for advice because he has been a military man for most of his adult life and has driven big military vehicles in foreign countries and places I’d rather not go. His civilian truck looks like a serious black ops machine, so I figured he’d have some strong opinion. He was leaning toward the Toyota, because it has a lot of permutations and one was bound to suit my needs, or rather, my motorcycle’s.
Right then, a red Toyota pick-up zipped into the spot next to us. The driver, a “local boy” called “G-man” looked over, laughed and said that I was the last guy he wanted to see. G-man had started painting the Sportster’s gas tank in the spring but, like every local, got really busy with other things—like work—as spring jumped right into summer. I didn’t mind the time it was taking, local boys and Indians both look at side projects the same way: “whenever I can get to it” and G-man’s side projects are pretty impressive; he built a beautiful red skiff, recently put together a really cool custom hard-tail Harley–Davidson, surfs all year long, even winter, and is smart and funny as all get out. And he’s no slouch with a spray gun.
I managed to steer G-man away from any discussion about the gas tank, then asked how he liked his truck, which turned out to be new and to his satisfaction, then listened to him riff about the influx of “summer drivers,” as we watched the endless flow of cars heading east on CR 39. We all agreed that some folks drove $90,000 cars with 75 cents worth of brains, judging by the maneuvers we saw on Main Street, around town, and in the very parking lot where we sat. Either G-man or The Sarge, upon seeing a top shelf Mercedes just miss a tool-laden work truck, commented, “see, some are drivers and some are not.”
Before heading across the parking lot towards the store, G-man assured me that the tank would be ready by Monday. I assured him that “whenever” was fine by me. Halfway across the lot he turned back and called out, “I didn’t say which Monday!” That’s Local boy and Indian humor.
“You guys should have known that when some foreigners show up on your beach with buckles on their shoes and hats that they were going to be nothing but trouble. And if that wasn’t a sign, the knee-high white stockings should have been a definite tip-off.”
“Toomay,” another local boy, is telling me for the 1,000th time that the old Shinnecock should have seen what was in store for them when the first settlers came ashore. Like G-man, Toomay rides a big Harley-Davidson, which I’m pretty sure is loaded with things that are marginally legal; the thing sounds like a low-flying C-130. Toomay’s dog had just died, so we talked about how cool the tough little hound had been. That’s another similarity between local boys and Indians—we love our working dogs and Toomay’s dog would work on your ass if you tried to break into his car—he also kept varmints like squirrels, moles and deer from hanging around the yard. The dog was friendly, but he would bark loudly on command and scare the pants off you as Toomay just laughed. That little dog will be missed for some time and talked about for years to come.
So what else do local boys and Indians talk about when they meet up? Subjects run the gamut from the loss of open space due to the proliferation of condos and high-end developments in the fields, woods, and along the shorelines, to the fast disappearing places where a hunter could bag a deer, duck or goose, to how the skies used to be black with geese landing in the fields. We all know guys that trapped muskrat and raccoons, and folks who went to the “alewife drain” and pickled or smoked what they caught. Sometimes, we reminisce about how it was ‘back in the day’, with stores like Gould’s 5&10, Herbert’s, Art’s, and Gardner’s markets, and Todd’s Anchorage. Other times we argue about who had the best heroes, Gene’s or Uncle Milty’s. Everyone remembers and agrees that Crutchley’s crullers (and cruller hearts) were the bomb. We compare notes about riding hairy winter surf, or coasting along on the undertow. And almost always, the conversation swings back around to how the influx of new money as opposed to old money has inevitably changed things, and not necessarily for the best.
So, if you see an interesting and diverse group of guys chatting at the post office, grocery, in a parking lot, or alongside their trucks on the side of the road, don’t fret, they’re harmless. And if they stop talking as you walk by, well, you have every reason to feel paranoid. They’re more than most likely going to talk about you after you pass by. It’s just another thing Local boys and Indians share.
Oh, and the tank was indeed a beautiful thing to behold when G-man had it delivered by a mutual Indian pal…on a Wednesday.
James Keith Phillips’ story “Magic Shirts” won Dan’s Papers 2012 Literary Prize for Nonfiction. Phillips holds a B.A. in Theater Arts and M.S.W. from S.U.N.Y. Stony Brook, and an M.F.A. in Writing from Long Island University. He has worked as a dancer, dance teacher, cook, painter, landscaper, psychotherapist/social worker, security assistant, deli clerk and anything else that paid. He has been riding the same motorcycle for 35 years.