Guest Essay: Unreported Death In Springs

Dear Diary,
I didn’t know what to THINK or how to ACT.

Pete’s dead and I buried him. Saw him laying on the ground, body flattened by the impact. Hit and run. I’m in shock. Walking toward the mailbox to get last Saturday’s mail, there he was.
Alone. Abandoned. D–E–A–D.

Everyone knows Pete around here. “Here” is Lion Head Beach, located in Springs, adjacent to Hog Creek and overlooking Gardiner’s Bay in East Hampton. Will Pete’s death be reported?
“Who. Cares?” I can imagine him saying.

So far, the story hasn’t made The East Hampton Star, The East Hampton Press, nor Dan’s Papers.

I listened to WLNG radio. At noon they report area deaths and funerals complete with deep, biographical detail and colorful commentary. Because the station programs a constant flashback of oldies, I was confused: Were they reporting today’s funerals or yesteryear’s? (Death was sponsored by a jingle about floral GRAVE BLANKETS (LOL) and a septic service whose motto is, “We’re number one in number two.”)

Pete never made news (unless you consider loafing around the neighborhood, eating your strawberries, and occasionally catching him in an act of coitus in the backyard newsworthy.) Despite his laid-back, Mr. Natural lifestyle, Pete was unwelcomed by the newer residents around “Here.” (Pete considered you as being from “Away” unless you could trace your family lineage to “Here.” Folks from “Away” believe they live “Here” now, so the prejudice remained reciprocal.)

Pete stuck to old ways. A stubborn isolationist, Pete (along with his tendencies—you know, the loafing-around, the garden theft, the nudity) avoided the folks from Away (but who live Here now) even as they denied him of his civil rights!

First, they ignored him (out of sight, out of mind), later they scolded him for trespass, and more than once physically removed him from their property, and dropped him off at a “more convenient place for him to live.”

without fail
without maps
without GPS
and without help
HE would walk home. Instinctively. Every time. (BTW—THEY always referred to Pete in the third person singular.)

Pete took his time to smell the roses in life, pausing to select the best rosebud to eat, like he was the Slow Movement’s original grandfather. Pete spoke slowly. Pete was a low-talker.

Pete stayed camouflaged during the summer months, usually unnoticed. (NO one ever saw Pete in the “off-season.” Where DID he go?) Few ever took the time to seek out the old man, busy instead, racing around Here worrying about their jobs, shouting about their mortgages, and hosting loud parties.

Pete was a wanderer and wandering takes time, like EVOLUTION, the scientific theory that he embodied. OLD, STUBBORN, WANDERING, SLOW—TALKING, EVOLVER ATTRACTS UNWANTED ATTENTION, I’m thinking.

Anyway, a lot about Pete reminded me of Timothy Leary, in the cadence, the way Leary said, “Think. For. Yourself. And. Question. Authority.” (Leary was a slow-talker with a wicked, toothy grin. Though Pete never smiled—perhaps because he had no teeth—he was like Leary; rescued when in trouble by some, spurned by most others when he needed help…crossing the road, for instance.) And then there’s the FACT that Pete likes eating hallucinogenic, poisonous mushrooms, suffering no ill effects. This would kill ordinary men!

Pete claimed to be over 100 years old and paused for the longest time—Between. Every. Word.—delivering syllables as sentences, believing brevity and longevity are related.
As such, my conversations with Pete weren’t usual in the usual sense.

• “He trespassed on my property, lives like a hobo and sleeps in the bushes. He scares me. What about the children?”

• “He’s old, he smells, AND,” kids shrieked, “he has RED EYES!” (I just checked mine, they’re green; you know, the iris part.) I gotta admit Pete did have freaky, red eyes. Just as odd, ALL his girlfriends had yellow eyes.)

• “My grandfather remembers him living in a Volkswagen Beetle, back in 1968 before the L.H.B. development. A real hippie freak with a tattooed face and stoner-red-eyes. Him and that VW bug were inseparable. Where did his body end and the VW begin?”

About rumors:
“Whatever. Wherever. Whenever. Whoever. However. Who. Cares? All. Wrong.”
About private property laws:
“They. Don’t. Exist.”
“Easy. Now.”
Being the neighborhood vagabond:
“Where. I. Am. Is. Home.” (THAT explains the VW comments)
THE proper diet:
Teenager. —Omnivore.

This year, cars struck several people in Springs. Hell, anyone crossing the street risks his life in summer, and Pete, having lived Here long before automobiles, made the mistake of always expecting the right-of-way.

By now, his body was attracting the zippy attention of a dozen summer flies. I imagined hearing Pete’s Leary-like incantation, “Think. About. Reality. Act. Accordingly.” With no one in sight (still in shock), I held a quick memorial service, (“Pete, what the hell happened?”), grabbed a shovel and interred him on my property (in possible violation of the law, my dear Diary).

Am I covering up a Hate Crime when I buried him in that grave? I learned from an officer that Pete is on record in New York State as being “threateneD!”

I’VE BEEN FREAKED-OUT ALL WEEK thinking about you, Pete, my old, dead-and-buried-on-my-property, tattooed-faced, red-eyed, vegan-hobo friend.

This Saturday, while cleaning the pool skimmer, I found a day-old hatchling Eastern Box Turtle. He was nearly drowned in this unfavorable location. After he recovered, I took the tiny tot to another property, away from my garden, away from MY private property, to a place more convenient for him to live.

Later I thought, what if this was Pete’s kid?

Note: The colorful, Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) is considered the only “land turtle” found in New York State. Box Turtles are extremely long-lived, slow to mature, and hibernate underground during winter. If environmental conditions are favorable, Eastern Box Turtles prefer to live in a small area the size of a football field for the entirety of their natural, 100-year+ lifespan, and they have relatively few offspring per year. Although dietarily opportunistic, box turtles appear to transform their diets as they age from carnivore to omnivore to vegetarian. These traits, along with the propensity to get hit by cars, make box turtles a species particularly susceptible to human-induced problems.

And, they really do eat mushrooms deemed poisonous to humans, have a colorful face, and never leave the comfort of their VW-like shell.

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