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Guest Essay: The Old Dude by Victoria L. Cooper

We teased each other’s hair until it hurt. We’re going back to July 4th, 1980-something for ’80s Night at The Stephen Talkhouse. The elbow-to-elbow crowd smells of smoked meat, salt and limes. The wooden floors creak beneath my feet and, though I can barely hear it over the neon tones and crimped hair, I can still feel it.

It’s early enough in the night that the locals haven’t left—the guy in the stained sweater vest, the owner of that popular restaurant with the lady that’s not his wife, the older woman who only drinks cheap pinot grigio. I wait for a beer behind two sitting men, their sunburned bellies poached under the lip of the bar. I notice their mustache glue and their torn-at-the-thigh jeans. They wear identical T-shirts that scream “Frankie Says Relax.”

I think this must look like any glittery frat party in Anywhere, USA to my Ohio friends. But I know otherwise. I know that the East End is rare. After college most of our friends went where the salary was highest, where the neighborhood was hippest. I want them to understand this place so they can understand me; understand why I stayed in the dunes of Amagansett. After driving 400 lackluster miles on I-70 East from Ohio to Amagansett, there’s no time to hold back. When I return to the dance floor they’re singing, “Come on Eileen,” as if I’d abandoned them.

“It’s so crowded in the summer,” I say.

“Toora loora toora loo rye aye,” my friend sings. “But at least the people here are more attractive.”

*          *          *

I’ve tried recounting my memories to them. How I learned to swim at Little Albert’s Beach, how I learned what happiness is at bonfires off Bluff Road, how I learned to be full on Vicki’s Veggies sweet corn. I’ve told them the unforgettable experience of being five and sitting next to Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley during the fireworks at the public beach next to Devon Yacht Club.

“They were super famous then,” I say, “and married. The Hamptons is where celebrities come to relax,” I continue, “like last week when my neighbor saw Alec Baldwin buying chicken cutlets or when my sister ran into Paul Simon ordering mint chocolate chip at the ice cream shop. It’s great.”

“Really,” they say. I can tell it’s the sort of look that yawns, the sort of look that says, don’t try so hard. But of course it always makes you try harder. “That’s cool, Vic. We should totally wait at that ice cream shop.”

I tried telling them how the East End creates light different from any other place in the world.

“You know,” I say to them, “the light is softer because we’re surrounded on all sides by water.”

“But aren’t most islands like that, I mean, isn’t Manhattan like that?”

“Well,” I say. “Maybe you’re right. It could be the placebo effect I’m experiencing. Ooo I know the cemetery where Jackson Pollock is buried—what do you guys think about seeing that?”

“Jackson who?”

 *          *          *

Back on the dance floor we hear stretches of voices. I show them around the watering hole—the stage bar with paintings of the namesake Native American, Talkhouse. The side bar with its photography wall of naked people and the outside bar with the woman who sells hot dogs and relish. No one orders a hot dog.

Guys in Fresh Prince pants:

“Why’d they stop playing music?”

“I thought it was the same DJ all night.”

“Yeah, but this is definitely the radio. That’s Beyoncé playing, not Bowie.”

“I can tell you that’s not what I paid 20
bucks for.”

Ladies in zebra leggings:

“Who is the old dude?”

“My beer is warm.”

“Wait, what’s his friend’s name?”

“I wanna dance, you guys!”

“Seriously, who’s the old dude?”

When I hear the maracas shaking I give the old dude on stage a better look. The red floral parrot shirt gives him away. The 80s baby-faced crowd turns to see him. His name passes around the room like a

“Hello, Amagansett,” exclaims Jimmy Buffett. “I was passing through these parts and thought I would buy you pretty folks a drink,” he points to the bartenders, “Red Stripes for everyone.” He’s already sipping on one himself.

Cold beers are being passed through the crowd. Before Buffet starts “Cheeseburger in Paradise” he says, “You know, we’re all on this big ball together so keep that music going on in your heart.”

My friends turn to me, jumping. “Is this really happening? Jimmy Buffet is playing like two feet away from us! Vic, can you believe it?”

I stand in stupor and sip from my Red Stripe and nod yes, “I can.”

Victoria Cooper is a creative writer with love for photography, painting, filmmaking and rabble-rousing. She founded The Secret Wish Box, a luxury wedding gift company. This essay was an entry in the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize for Nonfiction. For info and to enter, go to LiteraryPrize.DansPapers.com.

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