Guestwords: Arrivederci Amagansett

By Hy Abady

    There are strangers lounging around by my pool! A couple, a married couple, strangers, the man, apparently heterosexual, cavorting around in a sarong!
    They are smiling, drinking rosé wine, and sweltering in July’s 90-degree-plus heat.
    What are they doing in my gorgeous — if, as my pool guy refers to it, peanut — pool? (It’s tiny. But chic.)
    Oh, wait a sec. The pool is theirs. As is the house.
    My house has been sold.
    I bought the house at the corner of Bayberry Lane and Central Avenue in the spring of 1982. A block from the ocean. I timed it more than once, astounded: a four-minute walk. Beach Hampton, as some old-timers and some real estate agents refer to the region. I have always lovingly called it “the Dunes.”
    Prior to discovering this magnificent mile or two of the world, I was a Jersey Shore kind of kid. Pre-Snooki and her crazy crowd, but smack in the middle of Bruce Springsteen’s performing at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. I had relatives in Bradley Beach and then Deal — a step up. This was the early ’70s. But in the late ’ 70s, a boss of mine asked me if I was interested in sharing a rental cottage in Amagansett, alternate weekends.
    “Where’s Amagansett?” I asked. “Rhode Island?”
    “That’s Narragansett,” he answered. “Amagansett is in the Hamptons. Close to the tip of Long Island.”
    I took a rainy April Saturday drive to investigate, and never left.
    It was a small house, steps to the ocean — two bedrooms, teensy kitchen, with a private backyard, a small Weber grill, a cement patio, and those seductive dunes.
    It seduced me, all right. This every other weekend, mid-June to Labor Day rental, $1,750 my share, which I shared with a friend, set me back $875 then. I think one night at the Maidstone costs $875 today.
    After that idyllic summer, I stayed. And then strayed. With a group of friends, I rented a fall-winter house in Wainscott. But summer after summer, I drifted back to the dunes. The same house twice more. Something else on Beach Avenue, when it was called Beach Road. And one summer, on Treasure Island Drive in a house with a name: Shakubuku.
    But in 1982, I bought. An upstanding rectangle of a house on a third of an acre.
    “It looks like a sauna,” a friend said the day I showed it off. The house had horizontal blond wood paneling. Two stories of it, 30-foot ceilings in the “great room,” which was the living room, dining area, and kitchen. A master bedroom below, a loft area and two guest bedrooms above, with two small baths, one on each floor.
    No real closet space. No attic. No basement. A washer-dryer in a closet. Hot water heater in the crawl space.
    A dream house. I paid $190,000 for it.
    It has not only been the best investment I have ever made — I sold it last month, after 31 years of living there, for more than 15 times what I paid (you do the math; I hate that overused expression) — but more than that. It was the most peaceful, most inspiring, most social, most dramatic, most renovated, most lovely, most entertaining, most beautiful place I have ever lived in. By far.
    I have fallen in love in the house. Fallen out of love in the house. And fallen in love for good in the house. With a man who wound up not only living there with me, but oversaw the pool construction, the total redo (down to the rafters, with heat, finally, a year-round place), and decorated it in a style that people have called “Zen cathedral.” Skylights in the four corners, windows everywhere else, framing the blue, the puffy white clouds, the rushing storm clouds, the sunsets, and the moon. The black velvet pincushions of stars. Sliding glass doors in three places. Light that forever moves and changes and stuns.
    The house has held me as I licked my wounds between jobs. The house has allowed me five-day weekends during a couple of stints of freelance work. The house has inspired an avid interest in drawing. The house has withstood hurricanes wherein I had to X the windows with masking tape. Nearby Central Avenue has been flooded at times, canoes drifting by. Sandy was a scare, but nothing more inconvenient than lost power for a week, same as in my downtown New York apartment. Irene, Andrew, He and She, this and that, here and there, only added to the romance of candle-lit dinners off the grill.
    My friends are crestfallen. It was their favorite house — the pool they loved to lounge by under bright skies and wide-open sunshine, whereas the back deck, flagstoned and shrouded by enormous Russian olive trees and bayberry bushes, was shaded and cool for lunches.
    Early on, I had a Thanksgiving party for 20-odd stranded souls. My friend Tony, an occasional drag queen, showed up in a blond wig and a cobalt blue sequined gown with his own musical accompaniment. For weeks, I let the wayward sequins peppering the sisal carpeting remain as a sweet reminder.
    There were parties on the deck, lobsters and lanterns at the ocean.
    A neighbor and close friend’s daughter died in a car accident one July Fourth weekend. Then, the friend himself died. A baby was born to another neighbor and close friend just this past March.
    Neighboring houses dusted themselves off and rose to grander heights. The neighborhood, still a stomping ground in the summer for frat-boy-turned-finance-guy sharing, groups of young people and noise and parties, sometimes disturbed me, but I always reminded myself of when I first discovered Amagansett. Those drop-dead dunes. The easy life, the breezy life, the sound of the unrelenting ocean waves, always there, in, out, calming to listen to at night, as lulling as a pleasant dream. I think about how I was when I first showed up at 27 years old, my music always too loud, the guests a little too rowdy, the hours a little too late into the early morning. We never wanted to say goodnight in Amagansett when we were young.
    I had never realized the time would come when I would have to say goodbye to Amagansett. But now that I’m older, that time has come.
    Other people, strangers, laughing, frolicking around in sarongs, marveling at their good fortune, being a four-minute walk to the Atlantic, have at it.
    I’ll be a renter again now.
    And guess where I’ll be renting?

    Hy Abady is the author of “Back in The Star Again: True Stories From the East End.”