So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
I believe in miracles. But I also believe miracles occur the more you look for them. And the more you need them.
In my first novel, The Book of Ash, the main character (Baldwin Wallace) in the dystopian, somewhere in the near-future society I created, works as a miracle counselor. His job, basically, is to judge if a person experienced a miracle or not, and give a compensatory reward if it is deemed they actually did. Often, an applicant would be turned down because the presenting experience was more “coincidence” than miracle.
Here’s an exchange from the book where Baldwin rejects a man’s claim and explains the difference:
The man fiddled in the chair opposite Baldwin’s desk before he finally spoke.
“So the other day, out of the blue, I met someone whose father had the same initials as my father. And we have the same initials as well. We’re both named after our fathers. That’s a miracle, right?”
Baldwin frowned, but tried to infuse compassion into the angle of his lips.
“I’m sorry, that’s not a miracle.”
“Then what is it?”
The man frowned back at Baldwin, but it was more sneer than sadness.
“And the difference is?”
Baldwin held a breath before answering.
“A coincidence doesn’t always improve your life. A miracle does.”
I was thinking about this the other day. I was at my parents’ home, helping to clean a basement as they prepared to move, when I found in a frame a letter I wrote years ago to The New York Post. It was in response to an article they published about the changing societal environment in the “Hamptons”, the string of tony towns on Long Island’s east end. My letter ran soon-after in the paper, which was a big deal for me then, as it represented one of the first times I ever had a creative work of mine published, even if it was the opinion page.
I’ll share what I wrote:
When the Hamptons Aroma Was Potato
Taki’s musing remembrances of a Hamptons long gone was nice (“No hankering for Hamptons”), but to my predilections not that appealing. Granted, today Hollywood and commercialism reign, and the stately old guard of trust money has been replaced with the borrowed and leveraged bucks of toupee name droppers.
Yet the Hamptons passing that saddens me is not the pasty white hemophiliac Wasps, whirling nubile debs on a makeshift dance floor, while domestics talked in hushed tones and served champagne with eyes averted. No, I don’t rue the passing of that era.
Of course, if you were part of the landed gentry at that time, life was indeed grand. Picnics on the beach, beautifully prepared and packaged by recent Irish immigrants. A nice drive to town, chauffeured by a poor Italian. Cole Porter tunes to the light of the moon, while local Polish farmers irrigated their fields by night. It was indeed a glorious time.
The spoiling of this era by the new-rich and wannabes is just an extension of the bygone Gatsby era. For what was the Gatsby crowd but a bunch of sycophants who longed to be near the mysterious tycoon? That has always been the Hamptons: When you are there, you cease being somewhere else and you look down at the rest. This will not change.
The Hamptons I will miss is:
- The smell of a potato field at night after a farmer has sprayed, and the wind kicks up off the ocean.
- Walking down a street devoid of a police car with a fake dummy in it.
- A street with no rollerbladers.
- Finding things that aren’t condoms or wine coolers on the beach.
- Seeing a farmer drive his tractor down the road, without a line of BMW’s behind beeping.
- Driving for 10 miles to the only pizza place in the area.
- Going to movies that came out a year ago.
I don’t miss Gatsby, but I miss the farmer, Gatski.
I read the article again, in a basement filled with mementos and memories, and wondered who was that person who wrote this? I have changed so much since then, and I tried to recall the spirit which moved me to take up the pen at that moment. It was nice, to think back, and helpful, I believe, to reconnect with that young writer. It gave me a chance to recall my roots, my early passions, and consider what might still remain inside me as I continue this twisting journey as an author.
I finally put down the article and moved on to pulling out boxes and boxes of books. Several had my name written atop the faded cardboard. I opened one and sitting, on the top, amidst hundreds of crammed in paperbacks, was a musty copy of The Great Gatsby. I opened the book and saw, on the inside flap, hand-written, a price – $3.
I knew then where and when I bought it – at a used book store I frequented in the Hamptons, right around the time I wrote that letter.
I took out the book, placed it next to the article, and continued on with my cleaning. Not sure if it was all pure coincidence or a miracle that will change my life for the better.
I’m betting on the latter.