Ditch Plains Dogs; a Short Story

Hot Dogs at Ditch Plains? The distance between places in a city like New York is easy to determine. I count streets, I count avenues, or both, and I know approximately how far one place is from another by counting the number of blocks I have walked. Numbered streets in Manhattan and Brooklyn, for instances, are laid out at approximately 1/20th of a mile, and that includes the distance crossed at each crosswalk. Each Avenue is approximately three times the distance of one of these blocks. When in a place like Montauk, though, no such grid arrangement is apparent, and I have to judge distance differently. I cannot count streets in the same way, laid out along the old village plan as they are in Montauk.

I wanted to be on the beach at Ditch Plains watching the surfers surf while eating hot dogs from the truck; we would wash them down with the beers we would bring in one of those cooler bags I have had for years from my Dad I cannot imagine how long ago–yes, there was a lunch cooler bag big enough for a sand which and a drink, and it was perfect, I imagine I think, for three beers? Or was it four? That is, if one would be placed perpendicularly to the three . . . if you can imagine.

Distance on the beach has to be judged by time, which is only referenced by how far I can walk in X time in the city, how many blocks by how many minutes equals how many miles per hour. However, beach walking and street walking are not completed at the same rate, so when I walk on the beach for however much time I do, I have to adjust the time correlation with distance due to how much more slowly I walk on sand than I do on level concrete. Nonetheless, we do walk long distances on the beach, judged by the length of time we spend walking on the beach.

One summer, we wanted to walk along the beach to South Hampton, I remember, yes, one summer . . . every summer going to Montauk, sometimes twice in a summer. What year it was I am not certain. It was an afternoon sitting on our drift wood log, on the beach by where we were staying, our room eclipsed behind the dunes that run the length of beach between the cliffs of Shadmoor State Park and Hither Hills State Park. It was a huge piece of an even bigger tree trunk that had washed ashore in yet another summer, I don’t recall. I forget which summer it was when we first met the log, or which visit in which summer, sometimes visiting more than once, twice a summer not unusual for our summertime in Montauk, again Land’s End, the final destination on the South Fork, I liked saying Land’s End, an anthology of English Lit I had when I was taking Chief Romantic British Poets, a class in Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats, the map of England on the inside of the front cover marking the tip of Cornwall. Yes, on the inside front cover was a map of Great Britain and Ireland and at the furthest extent of the southern- and western-most peninsula of England was written the words Land’s End. It’s the peninsula bordered by The English Channel, Plymouth Sound to be exact, and The Irish Sea. Our Land’s End was surrounded by Peconic Bay, Block Island Sound and The Atlantic Ocean; Land’s End.

How far from the first summer we spent there, how many summers from, I could not count, when the log appeared it just was there, nothing magical. How long by train to South Hampton we had forgotten, how many times checking our watches or cell phones on the train to Montauk and how much time between Southampton and Montauk with Amagansett between. We could have just looked at the train schedule, but we mislaid the one we had on our trip out. I am remembering when we decided we might have wanted to walk to Southampton and how we naively asked if it was far to walk, I mean too far to walk; we did not think it was too far, we couldn’t imagine not being able to. We knew it was not far by car or by train. I think once we went by bus, but we forgot how long that had taken. Cabs would be too expensive, no need to spend forty dollars to go to Southampton. If I won the lottery I would not spend forty on a cab to Southampton—now even I know that’s bullshit. I’d be taking cabs everywhere.

Was it too far on foot we wondered, thinking we could know this by just divining it, although we did not say anything about divining or thinking in the way most people think which has nothing really to do with thinking, or so I imagined? What people confuse for thinking has more to do with randomly passing images in the mind. Again, I’ve said this before in other places—I’ve written so much in journals and notebooks over the decades since I first took up pen that it is impossible not to repeat myself, just as impossible as it is to recollect where and when I said what I had said before before . . . we were often like this. In an inspired instant, we thought we could walk it. I adopted an unusual optimism–not that I am at all pessimistic—no—I am not pessimistic in any way. I am realistic. I hold dialogue between positive and negative points of view—and I think that positive thinking is overvalued in America, not really valid in the way we support; often times we try to enforce ourselves to its adherence. It’s a creed. It’s doctrine.

I can because I think I can is really bullshit. Thinking you can is never enough, not that you know this as well as I do. I can fly, I can fly, I can fly; now jump off a building. The thing about I can is that it prevents you from actualizing or acting on I cannot. I cannot is equal to I never will. You won’t do by accident what you believe you cannot do, so it’s not this idea of positive thinking that is so powerful as to suddenly make you able to do what you have not done before, or able to do what you are in fact unable at the moment to do, as it is powerful in helping you to avoid the power of negative thinking. Yes, again, you won’t do what you believe you cannot do. I can’t won’t make you able, it will simply allow you to sidestep prima facie never will

We did not consider if it were too far or not, just far enough, not far at all, we did not consider any of these, I could not say why. I would not try to. I would not spend a moment imagining why or how. Optimism is often a delusion, a delusion often maintained by willfully forgetting the details how and how long, when and where and with what. How long could it be even if the train took forty minutes to get there? We thought we could walk it how could it be that we could not. A couple of hours? Maybe three.

We did find the Long Island Rail Road schedule. We checked it and found that it was forty-three minutes by train. When they came, would be a problem; our stop being the last, the End, Montauk. Fewer trains make it out this far. A train after Speonk—there is only one track, I think I remember, the last time I took notice was when I cannot say. One night going out to the point late, around eleven when we stepped aside, our eastbound train did, a sidetrack, and we waited nearly a half hour for the train going westbound to pass us. How far could it be if we walked, in time, how many hours, couldn’t we do it, on the beach, along the shore, I mean if we woke with the dawn and had breakfast and left right after, couldn’t we get to Southampton before lunch, I mean we could, couldn’t we, we wondered.

Two stops on the train mean what to us walking; five minutes each stop at the stop coming to a stop to let off and on, all aboard. Three? Two? How many minutes at each platform? How long does the train travel between each stop, and how fast? How many minutes at what speed equals how far, length distance time–time and space are an indissoluble unity, the oneness of space and time is apparent in travel . . . no? I think it is. Distance and duration are either long or short.

We were thinking of taking the train, take the train—if we took the train—we would still have to take a cab to the train, and on the way back, a cab from the train to the motel, I mean why walk as far as we would have to walk to take the train and not instead take that time on the beach toward Southampton. We never drove out to Land’s End. We took the LIRR. We could walk to the Hampton Jitney in town; we could get this other bus just across the street from where we are staying, we could take a cab, we could walk—I mean we could walk as anyone could walk. We could walk to California, but would we and in that would not we could not because will has as much to do with ability as any capability to do what we think we desire to do.

And desire is everything. Will is desire; in fact in German, as in Anglo-Saxon, Will is desire, Willen to want to, so I will eat is I desire to eat, I want to eat, wanting, again, being everything. If you want to, you will; if you do not, you did not want it badly enough. Will-less perception? Desire is not torment.

The train travels more slowly than cars on the highway. I do not know that, but it must be true. We did not know anything, really. What if it were fifty miles an hour and it were traveling for about thirty minutes at that speed? Twenty-five miles along the shore? Thirty minutes a mile. That is twelve and a half hours. We would leave at seven and get there around eight, unless we averaged three miles an hour instead of two. Then we would get there around three in the afternoon. Maybe around four or five, figure ten hours, we decided. It would take us about ten hours on foot.

That is ridiculous she says, of course saying what she has here been quoted as having said with an inflection I cannot represent in print and will not attempt to describe, another exercise in futility as I used to like saying, a personal cliche.

Nonetheless, I agreed . . . if we were sixteen or eighteen, then no problem . . . not at our age, not too old, certainly no longer young; but walk on the shore for eight hours was a bit ridiculous; how could we think of that? We decided no, of course, no. How could we have decided otherwise? It makes you a bit upset that you could have thought to do something that wound up so resoundingly no. That we spent as much time thinking about something we in the end could not do, would not attempt, would not even envision or fantasize doing.

I suggested we make it to Ditch Plains . . . finally, as I have wanted to go there since we started coming out here, but evidently not badly enough to do it. The last time we tried to walk from the border between East Hampton and Montauk to Ditch Plains we stopped at the cliffs of Shadmoor and paused on the rocks at high tide, not letting us around, the sea and shore conspiring against our progress. I was suddenly seized with a fear of drowning, not knowing what the rocks were like in that turbulent surf around the jutting promontory of the cliff seen from our beach, just below the plains of Shadmoor State Park we will one day traverse along the paths that wind their way through to the sloping hill culminating at Ditch Plains. We will eat hot dogs there with green relish. I will remember. I had wanted to go to Ditch Plains at dawn; each time out here I said we should go to Ditch Plains tomorrow at dawn, never doing it, only this time I feel resolute in my desire, again wanting to is will do. It did not matter that we never got there in the past, for how many years, what year was the first one out here? At dawn or near after dawn was when the surfers would come out, no? I thought as much. I am going to go there one morning to see them before I die, I said.

We stood for a time on the sand before the rocks that had piled up on the beach. We watched how violently the waters came to the shore against the rocks. We were afraid to walk on them around the jutting bluff beneath the cliff worn by winds and storm surges from hurricanes in the past. We stood and listened to the echoes of the hoodoos that caught sailors in the distant past, the pirates who were alleged to have come this far North from the Carolinas and Bermuda to bury treasure and were captured by the Native spirits. I remembered how I said I would come back and dig until I found treasure buried by pirates. He said nothing. I said it again to myself. I said nothing else. We continued past the point we had last come to only to turn back because it was the wrong time for the tides. You can’t make it past that promontory with the rocks covering the sands into the surf from the base of the cliff because it is too dangerous for people who are even good swimmers to get past, or at least I thought so at the time, what time was it, the year escapes me now, which summer was it? It does not matter, the only matter now getting past where we had stopped before and went no farther. How much of life is lived in fear, how much does fear form it? How much do we intend to avoid ever knowing this fear?

I had said okay about it that we should try to make it past our most recent farthest extent and go all the way to Ditch Plains as I have already said. Why somewhere in all of this that I will not explore, find the reason. I will never find it, lost as it is in one distraction or diversion after another. Wanting is everything Bill Packard had once said to us in his workshop at HB Studios–if you do not do it, you do not want it. That is where it’s from, Bill, at HB. How long ago is that? I am starting to realize that I am older than I feel or older than I think I am. Imagine I could have become, how that is I do not know, will not think about now or for the time being, other considerations pressing, or so they seem to be.

Yes, wanting is doing, and that is everything in a play, in theater, the stage, all the world, you know. What do the characters want? An actor prepares and considers his want; what do I want, Hamlet asks preparing for the play, the actor playing Hamlet must know. To build a character or not to build a character, not exactly everything what they say they want, or what you think they should want, or could want if but don’t get because these ifs are always elusive–what do they want? What do I want? I me the person me, I me the Self of many selves me; who am I? What am I?

Question following question. They do, they always do, persistent as they become at times, questions, the questions raised, the questions found, the questions avoided, and the ones asked again. Identify that, what you want, and everything else falls into place. What do you want? He used to ask us, Bill, in workshop.

I had wanted to go in the morning around dawn to see the surfers as they came to the spot where they ride waves on boards. I could almost see them doing this from the distance of our spot on the beach next to the East Hampton line, right where Hither Hills State Park begins near where Second House Museum is–I have said this already. Hither Hills is also home to many deer. We see them sometimes in the mornings coming and going in and out of the easternmost extent of the State Park. The easternmost edge of the park comes right up against the place we stay in Montauk. I have taken video of doe’s with their yearlings, or whatever you call baby deer, I don’t know. I’ve taken the video sometimes right at the edge of the backyard in Montauk. The photos I have and the videos I’ve taken of the waves coming to the shore in succession from the beach at the edge of the surf looking down the length of the coast east to its extent in the distance past Ditch Plains nearly all the way to the Point, but still a considerable distance on foot; what I could see that was not diminished in size by the distance in my eyes? Who am I here that I am not anywhere else I might be, that I am not when I am back in the city. I cannot recall. What do I call again to mind? Memory is a sound is an image is jump-cut motion picture? How old was I? Was I 14? Was I twelve? What year was it?

Time in the mind, time on the clock, time on the calendar, time in the universe, space-time, historical time, time in history, in historiography, time in the mentality of a people, cultural time, making time, taking time, taking one’s time to do things, slow down and get things done faster. This past summer I have great shots of sunrise and some video too.

I knew a guy when I was around fourteen who said he had spent time out in California, on the coast, out in Malibu and at Big Sur. He talked of the surfers and surfing, the boards and the waves, and the beach with the sand, the ocean, the sky, the girls, the tans, the bikinis, fires, and the sunsets. He talked of the madness and wisdom and how he broke the neck of his first guitar trying to surf on it one time when he was very, very drunk. He remembered that just before he broke the neck, fell into the ocean, and lost his guitar forever he had discovered the desire to learn how to play the guitar with his toes. He never showed us if he had learned. I never asked him.

At Ditch Plains, we stood on the beach at the edge of the surf looking out on the waves coming in off the top of the tide coming in somewhere halfway between the ebb of high and the ebb of low. We collect stones. Some stones are wave worn pebbles. Some are flat. One is the shape of a surfboard. I could not help but show everyone who was watching me collect the stones. Look, it is a board. Nature in tune with what they do here, I said. Either a few smiled, one said, right on, actually did, say right on, others just did not respond verbally or facially, expressions worth a thousand words my cousin Betty used to say.

We had the small thermos bag I mentioned earlier, with the few bottles of beer I mentioned having wanted to bring with me to Ditch Plains. They were bottles of Blue Point Toasted Lager we had gotten at the IGA on the Old Montauk Highway, and so I suggested we have the beers now on the beach at Ditch Plains with the dogs we had. I had gotten a few dogs with mustard, relish, and sauerkraut at the truck at the end of Otis Road, a very short distance in-land from the beach at Ditch Plains.

We sat on the sands as the sun descended behind us as we faced southeast looking to the horizon watching the waves coming in to the shore, evening low tide.

The dogs were good with the beers. I like dogs boiled in water with beer. I’m wondering if we should have dogs with beer and beans for dinner, boiled or grilled? Maybe we should get some kind of special sausage for the grill? That would be great to have some kind of gourmet sausage, maybe Andouille or a chorizo or some really good kielbasa?
“We should go to South Hampton to shop,” she said.

I imagined walking there as we planned to get the train from Montauk to Southhampton.

I then suggested we go to Amagansett by bus, the bus we can get across the road from where we were staying near the The Second House Museum (which we have not been inside of in a decade).


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