Dan Rattiner's Stories

Don’t Get Bit: A Conversation in a Bridgehampton Bar Last Friday Night

North and South Forks? No, more like Upper and Lower Jaws.

I was having a couple of beers at the bar in a Bridgehampton restaurant the other night and we got to talking about the North and South Forks. At this restaurant, the placemats are maps.

Forks seems inaccurate. There is nothing forky about either of them. Instead what comes to mind are jaws. There’s an upper jaw and a lower jaw. They’re part of a creature cruising along on the surface of the ocean. Between them is Shelter Island, a tantalizing little morsel for the jaws.

One of our party said he was a Shelter Islander. And the thought made him nervous.

“Why is that?” another person asked.

“Jaws shut. You get too close and they chomp.”

We looked more closely at the placemat. Indeed, they look more like jaws.

“I think it would be good if the North and South Forks changed their names to become Upper and Lower Jaws,” still another person said.

We ordered another round of beers.

“It would give a certain unity. People would call them ‘The Jaws.’ Something to say, finally, that can be grasped.”

“Like grasping at Shelter Island,” the Shelter Islander said.

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We stared at the placemat some more. The beer arrived. Somebody said the jaws could squash Shelter Island like a bug.

“It could be part of global warming,” somebody else said. “All these unexpected things have happened with the weather recently.”

“We had a tornado in East Hampton a few years ago,” I said. “And the waters are rising.”

This bar has old colorized postcard photographs of the East End from the 1930s on the walls, all blown up. One was of Three Mile Harbor, where I live. I pointed to it.

“See that long grassy peninsula in the photograph that makes the nearer part of the harbor a cove?”

Everyone nodded.

“It’s gone. Underwater. Even at low tide.”

The Shelter Islander again began to look closely at his placemat.

“For years and years,” he said, without raising his head, “people came to Shelter Island in the summertime for peace and quiet. We locals love the peace and quiet. And now this.”

“You think this would make everybody nervous?”

“It sure would.”

“Crunch it like a clump of dirt. Chomp,” another fellow volunteered. “It would sure make anybody nervous, waiting for it to happen.”

“Wouldn’t there have to be a hinge in Riverhead?” the Shelter Islander continued.

“There is a hinge in Riverhead,” I said. “But it’s all covered with wetlands. Illegal to clear it. ”

The Shelter Islander said well we had him there.

“Maybe there’s something you could do about it,” I continued.

“Like evacuate everyone?”

“It could happen with no warning,” somebody else said. “The Chequit, Deering Harbor, the Dory, the golf courses, the mansions. All crumpled up and crunched. Even the ferryboats.”

“If you think more about what would happen after that,” our Shelter Islander said, but now with a twinkle in his eye, “there wouldn’t be any more forks or jaws or fishtales or anything else. It would just be one big piece of land.”

“They’d call it the Hamptons,” he said. And everybody, including him, laughed.

“No more Shelter Island,” he continued. “We can’t have this. There are things we can do about it.”

“Like what?”

“We’d have to get started on this right away. Build hundreds and hundreds of docks. Piers. Jetties. Things that stick out. Stick them out on the shoreline everywhere.”

“And what would that do?”

“The jaws would start to close. But they couldn’t close all the way. The inside of THE mouth would get stuck on these things. I’d call it the Porcupine Defense. Nobody messes with a porcupine.”

“So the jaws would open back up.”

“Or maybe the jaws would spit Shelter Island out.”

“To where?”

“Block Island. It would stick like Velcro.”

There was murmuring up and down the bar of the inability of anybody to get Block Islanders to do anything to prepare for this. “Where is Block Island, anyway?” a man at the back asked.

“Then everybody would have to drive around the horn to get from the South Fork to North Fork.”

“I’m sure there would be ferries from Sag Harbor to Greenport. In between would be good for fishing.”

“I think the Jaws would just swallow Shelter Island, docks and piers and jetties and all,” somebody said.

“And where would it go?” I asked.

“Further inland, but underground. Ronkonkoma.”

That seemed to settle people down for awhile.

“Is any of us a designated driver?”

Nobody raised a hand. It would be taxis again. And so it goes, as Vonnegut used to say.

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