About a week ago, a small parcel, postmarked San Juan, Puerto Rico, arrived at the office. Inside, cushioned against breaking, was an old glass bottle of the sort that might have once contained a soft drink.
The legend, “J. D’Amico Quality Bottler,” in raised letters, appeared on one side, and “Amagansett, N.Y.” on the other. Vertical ribs made it reflect light in a colorful way. In the hand, its tapered midsection was vaguely reminiscent of the classic Mae West Coca-Cola bottle. The raised letters at bottom said it once contained seven fluid ounces.
Rolled and tucked into its narrow neck was the following note, dated Jan. 2:
“Found this bottle wedged in between two rocks on a beach in Belize. I’m traveling the Caribbean, photographing hotels and wealthy families on vacation. I am in P.R. now, on my way to Anguilla. Running out of paper so I’ll drop you a line when I return to N.Y.C. All my best! Chris. P.S.: Happy new year.”
Chris, who sent me the bottle, is Chris Manis, a friend who is singularly the most adept finder of things I have ever known. Back in the 1990s, when I lived in the city, he was continually picking up loose cash from the sidewalk, a dropped earring, some interesting tool, or piece of furniture left in the trash. I asked him what his secret was. “I never look up,” he said.
According to Carleton Kelsey’s “Amagansett: A Pictorial History, 1680-1940,” Joseph D’Amico ran a barbershop and ice cream parlor on the north side of Amagansett Main Street in the early part of the 20th century. An advertisement in a 1910 issue of this newspaper for the J. D’Amico Tonsorial Parlor noted that he stocked cigars, and canary birds and cages.
Later, in 1932, an immigrant from Sicily, Salvatore LaCarrubba, bought the building, which had once been occupied by the Life-Saving Service, and opened a shoemaking and repair business. A few months later, LaCarrubba’s began selling clothes. From my cursory reading, I did not find out what became of Mr. D’Amico.
It is difficult to imagine by what circumstances a bottle that may well have first been sold in an Amagansett shop ended up on a beach in Belize, some 1,800 miles away in a straight line. In those days, there was still a vigorous coastal trade, so it is possible that, after being carried to New England, it accompanied a shipment of salt cod or some other commodity on a long voyage south. Doubt I’ll ever know for sure.