Do you remember your first time? I do. It was a late spring evening and a slight fog blanketed Montauk. I was wedged in the front seat of a pickup truck between my brother and his friend, who I had a mad crush on. When we drove over the Old Montauk Highway and had our first glance at that incredible ocean view, I knew I was home. I had found Montauk, and fell deeply in love.
I had visited as a child, but had no emotional memories from that time. The only thing I remember is that our parents and their friends ate lobsters soaked in warm butter, while the kids ate pot roast soaked in soggy carrots that was cooked over a campfire at the Hither Hills campground. These days that would be considered child abuse, but I was too busy looking for the ice cream truck to even think about filing a police report on my parents.
I’ve been here 38 years now and have come to recognize the strangers who arrive each season. They often stand in the downtown area dazed and confused, looking like fish out of water. And like the fish in our local waters, some are keepers and some I think we should most definitely throw back.
One year there was a woman who wore the same clothes and bright red lipstick every day. Her boobs hung out of her tiny black top and her badly dyed hair hung long and stringy. You could tell she thought she was sexiest woman in the world. For some reason she hung out (in more ways than one) in a parking lot behind a local deli, swaying to music only she heard. Who knows, maybe she was selling her wares and I was just too stupid to realize it.
This past winter a guy showed up walking the downtown streets carrying a guitar case and wearing a suit. I thought he was with a band. He, too, had long straggly hair. As he walked by himself on the shoulder of Edgemere Road, he laughed like a madman. My husband was the one who pointed him out as we took one of our Sunday afternoon drives, which we do in winter for our afternoon cafe au lait.
The next day when my husband returned from work he told me that the guy had pulled a gun out of the guitar case. He crouched down and pretended he was shooting some customers near a coffee shop. The police apprehended him and found he was a wanted man.
And then there was the guy who dressed as Pinocchio, but without the wooden nose, who walked each day from the Ditch Plain area to the downtown area. It seemed a tough hike for a grown man, especially one wearing little shorts with suspenders and wooden clogs. A good wind could have blown his little cap off his oddly shaped head.
I can’t imagine what his gig was but maybe he was searching for Geppetto, the man who carved him and may have been hiding from him in the crazy guy’s guitar case. And though I heard the police found a lot of interesting stuff in that guitar case, I didn’t hear anything about their finding a little Italian man in there.
This is a busy time out here in Montauk. I envy the newcomers for their first time and all they have to learn and see in our little salt-scented hamlet. But it’s nothing like the Montauk I first came to love, a place that was still undeveloped, with sand-swept lots of shrubby plants and empty beaches for as long as the eye could see. Parking was always available and there were never long waits on sandwich lines.
It’s a weird cast of characters our little coastal town attracts each season and it will be interesting to see what we pull in this year. Maybe even Hansel and Gretel will visit.
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star and the paper’s Montauk correspondent.