Dan Rattiner's Stories

Five Feet Apart: A Film on the Hampton Ambassador Turns Out Not Be a Horror Movie

Things aren't always what they appear without sound to help us.

I ride back and forth a lot between the Hamptons and Manhattan on the Hampton Ambassador. It’s the ride you get if you pay the Hampton Jitney a few bucks more, and it’s a full luxury service. On the regular Jitney the attendant onboard serves water and snacks. On the Ambassador—the Ambassadors are listed on the schedule—they give you a set of audio earbuds when you get to your seat, a hot towel to wipe your hands or face, a choice of wines, coffees and soft drinks, a more elaborate choice of snacks, and, below the luggage rack in front of you overhead, a screen on which you can watch the movie they offer.

Usually I write stories on my laptop on the Jitney. People talk in low voices. The atmosphere is like a library reading room, or maybe a late 19th century railroad parlor car where the men would sit in club chairs reading The Wall Street Journal, smoking cigars and drinking scotch as their train, with the farms of Long Island whizzing by outside, took them out to Southampton on a Friday night. The Ambassador is about as close as you can get to that feeling in the 21st century.

You don’t know what the movie is until you get on. Sometimes the film is so-so, sometimes a new release or even an Academy Award winner. You get what you get.

I usually have decided ahead of time what I want to write for the paper while on the Ambassador. Mostly I write essays, and they can be completed during one ride, which is two and a half hours from the Upper East Side to Southampton. I can put off writing, of course, and if the movie is something that looks good, I will do that.

So here is my rule. I get on, take my seat, get the hot towel and ear buds, and then without putting in the earbuds, look up to watch the beginning of the movie. Almost always, it doesn’t give me much to go on, so I’ll start writing, but from time to time I glance up to see what’s what. If it is turning into a good movie, I’ll shut the laptop and watch the movie.

Yesterday, the attendant told me the movie was called Five Feet Apart. I had no idea about it.

I started writing and 10 minutes into it looked up. There were attractive young people walking around, busy doing things. They were all wearing very small, clear, plastic oxygen tubes that you stick in your nostrils and curl over each of your ears.

There was something wrong with the air, I thought. People would die if they didn’t wear these things. This must be a science fiction movie.

I am writing about the ill-fated three-masted schooner John Milton, barreling up the Atlantic during a snowstorm in February 1858 and carrying barrels of guano they’d loaded onboard at an island off the coast of Peru. Destination is New Bedford.

Another 10 minutes go by.

There were other people in the movie who were NOT wearing the oxygen tubes and they were okay. They were lecturing the folks wearing the oxygen tubes. I couldn’t tell for sure without my earbuds, but I think the folks not wearing the gear must be the aliens. Of course they could breathe this air, probably they thrive on it, as they pretend to be humans. So what’s the deal?

I briefly thought of putting on the sound. Nah.

Outside, we’re passing Exit 33, Kings Point.

In Hampton Bays that winter, a brand new lighthouse, the Ponquogue Lighthouse, has just been put into service. It has been shining brightly for only 49 days at this point to warn mariners not to come ashore in Hampton Bays. Even in this snowstorm, the lighthouse can be seen 30 miles away. Everyone is very proud of it.

Captain Ezekiel Harding aboard the John Milton has been sailing through the snowstorm and sees what he thinks is the Montauk Lighthouse. He’d passed another lighthouse earlier and knew it was the Fire Island light. He knew nothing about any new Ponquogue Lighthouse.

The young man and the young woman are looking at one another across a table. They seem to be falling in love. Maybe they are planning a getaway, but where would they go?

We’re passing Huntington.

Captain Harding sails by what he thinks is the Montauk Lighthouse, giving it a wide berth as he rounds Long Island and heads up toward what should be Long Island Sound and New Bedford. Running with the wind, he is under full sail, but instead of rounding Montauk he slams into the rocks just west of Ditch Plains.

Outside is Manorville.

This young couple is outdoors on a dark summer night, lying on their backs next to each other, quiet and satisfied, looking up at the stars. Neither is wearing the oxygen. I think they might have made love earlier, but if they did, I missed it. How are they going to survive in this bad air without the oxygen?

A funeral is held on the town green in East Hampton for the 33 crewmen who died aboard the John Milton. A preacher gives a sermon. They are buried in the Old Town Cemetery there. The church bell from the ship is hauled up to the steeple of the Presbyterian Church in town.

The young man and woman, instead of enjoying post-coital cuddling, are being raced through a hospital corridor, one behind the other on gurneys pushed by workers heading for intensive care. It’s an emergency.

The attendant appears. “Would you like some wine? We have red, white or rosé.”

“I’ll have a glass of white,” say I. “What’s the name of the movie again?”

“It’s called Five Feet Apart. About two young people who have cystic fibrosis and fall in love, but they can’t touch each other.”

We’re passing the Shinnecock Canal. The credits roll. I am handed a glass of wine. Now we are passing the Dan’s Papers office. The Omni in Southampton will shortly come into view.

Better save what I wrote.

I Google Five Feet Apart. The critics hated it. The audience loved it. It was a movie released three months ago. No aliens.

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