The Past Refound

My possessions are scattered across two houses in Thailand, a mountaintop cabin north of Santa Cruz, two farms in upstate New York, my apartment in Fort Greene, and my sister’s house outside of Boston, however I was surprised this weekend to hear my host Billy O say at his Easthampton house, “I have several boxes of yours in my cellar.”

“You do?” A vague recollection from 2002. The year I abandoned the USA for Thailand.

“You want to go check on them?” Both of us were recovering from LEAVING LAS VEGAS hangovers.

“No, let’s go for a swim in the ocean.” A distant hurricane was churning giant waves along the offshore sand bars. The water temperature was in the 70s. The salt air and danger of riptides had natural curative powers more important than a reunion with long-lost relics of the past.

“You boys be careful.” Billy’s wife shouted from the back porch. Two people had drowned the previous weekend.

“We’ll do the buddy system.” The ocean was unforgiving to fools.

Amagansett Beach was ten minutes from Billy’s house via the back roads. His I-pod played John Lennon’s WORKING CLASS HERO, as we broke through the barricade of slow-moving SUVs and Porsche Reich sedans on Route 27. Billy is a local. A parking space opened up next to the reserved handicapped spot. Billy grabbed it before a up-island vacationer could steer his Mecerdes GL 405 between the white lines.

“Nice, huh?” Billy had a healthy disdain for the summer people, while recognizing without them his high-end real estate job would disappear. He smiled to the irate driver of the luxury SUV and shrugged like he was sorry. It was a good act.

We walked onto the beach with towels over our shoulders. Two men in their 50s. The strand was crowded with weekenders dedicated to enjoying themselves in the sun. Their blankets were surrounded by coolers. The sea air was tainted by a miasma of melting sun lotion. This was not for us.

“Straight into the water.” Billy was a good swimmer.

“The only thing to do.” A single surfer was bobbing on the waves beyond the nasty shorebreak. Few people were venturing farther than their knees into the sucking froth. I ran into the sea. Billy followed close behind.

The water was cold at first and the current grabbed our bodies like the Atlantic wanted us to see Iceland. We ducked under the close-outs and stroked through the sets of double waves to the calm of the outer break. I couldn’t touch the bottom. The lifeguard looked in our direction. I waved that we were fine. He nodded to say ‘be careful’.

Billy and I rode a few waves. One crunched my body into the sandy bottom, then tumbled me in an eddy of foam. My head bobbed to the surface. Billy was a few feet from me. We shared a glance and let the turbulent surge carry us to safety.

“I think I’m ready to look at those boxes now.” I was out of breath and exhilarated by the swim.

We returned to Billy’s house, listening to John Lennon’s IMAGINE. I was never much of a Beatles fan, but these two songs reveal the genius of John, although Billy and I had to both ask, “Why Yoko.”

My boxes were downstairs. One was covered in mould. A small carpet had rotted in the damp. No damage to the art work. A cartoon series by Gaetano Liberatore, an oil painting from the Steaming Musselman Philippe Waty, two of Ellen Von Unwerth’s first photos, plus a suede jacket in a plastic bag.

“It still fits after all those years.”

“A little tight around the waist.” Billy’s wife was English. She said it in such a way that the truth didn’t hurt. They are such a polite people.

The next box was loaded with slides and photos from my travels around the world. Bali, Tibet, Laos, Peru, France, Ireland, China, Thailand, plus love letters dating back to 1976. The first year I moved to New York. I read a few aloud.

“Sweet.” Billy’s wife was very sentiment.

The third box was a set of Wedgwood china from Bowdoin College. It had belonged to my Grandfather, who had graduated from the Maine College in 1912. I had served countless dinners on the plates at my old apartment on East 10th Street. The large serving bowl still bore the stains of a sauce. I guessed tomato.

The last box contained books; first editions of FRANNY AND ZOOEY, CATCHER IN THE RYE, MOONRAKER, and about twenty other classics. They would have been worth a fortune if signed or still in good condition. Thankfully I hadn’t put them in the box with the carpet.

“Thanks, Billy.” He could have thrown these out years ago.

“Well, we still have to discuss the storage fees.”

“Oh, Billy.” His wife was British. “You can’t charge him anything.”

“I was just kidding.”

I knew that too, but his wife didn’t.

She was British.

Nows if I could only find my lost teddy bear.

My life would be complete.

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