A crew from Town and Country magazine was here a couple of weeks ago, and, at the end of the day, the young reporter appeared at my door.
I confessed right off that I had spent most of my working life, 44 years, at The Star, that I had only quit twice, and that I, now in the 2,200 range columnwise, had only been censored twice — “Points Of View” on the pursuit of happiness and on Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which the redactors feared would, in the case of the first, alienate the gay community, and, in the case of the second, alienate the Catholics. Though why only them, I don’t know. Rather than biblical figures, it had more to do with celebrity worship and my antipathy for it than anything else.
Inevitably, I was asked, along that line, about the Beales, who I thought were traduced by overweening officials and a prurient press, of which I am, of course, an outlying member.
“One quote I can give you,” I said. “I remember Edie Beale saying at the time, ‘Oh, Mr. Graves. East Hampton is so beautiful on the outside, but so ugly on the inside.’ Or words to that effect.”
I’ve since thought about what she said — true certainly when applied to her and her mother’s case — in light of the many examples of community-wide efforts here over the years in which the grief of those who have been particularly battered by Fate has been, if not lessened, at least conjoined with the knowledge that East Hamptoners generally do care for one another and wish each other well.
I said I didn’t know why the collective we were racked periodically with foaming-at-the-mouth seizures of self-righteousness, but it seemed to be so. “Maybe there’s something in the water. . . . Very soon after the Beale affair, my landlady-to-be’s nursery school was raided. She walked when the mothers testified n justice court that it was not a moneymaking concern.”
He asked what the quotes on my windowsill said. It was the first time I’d looked at them in a long time. “One says to stay out of Iraq,” I said, looking back at him. “One says to stay out of Iran . . . and this one, by Peter DeVries, who was generally known as a humorous writer, says it all.”
“ ‘The quest for Meaning is foredoomed. Human life ‘means’ nothing. But that is not to say that it is not worth living. What does a Debussy Arabesque ‘mean,’ or a rainbow or a rose? A man delights in all these, knowing himself to be no more — a wisp of music and a haze of dreams dissolving against the sun. . . . It seemed from all this that uppermost among human joys is the negative one of restoration: not going to the stars, but learning that one may stay where one is.’ ”
“Well,” I said, with a shock of recognition and with a sense of affirmation, “that’s what I’ve done!”