Friday, July 31, 2009

Watching the Stars Fall Asleep

Shortly after sunrise in Montauk

People make a major fuss about the fabulous sunsets in Montauk, while many snore through the even more enchanting dawns.

In summer and early fall the Montauk dawn is symphonically sensual. It opens about two hours before sunrise with the E-flat warbles of a goldfinch calling to her mate. This vocalizing earns a raspy C-sharp “Pipe down!” reply from a fat, sleepy blue jay, which of course wakes up the English song sparrows, whose girlish gossip wakes up the crows, who scold the world until sunrise, when there is a momentary intermezzo of silent awe, and then daytime life begins. Now and then, a blind musician will bring his fiddle to the beach and quietly play a solo concerto to honor the light he can feel but can only dimly see.

Dawn is different from sunrise. Scientists define astronomical dawn as the first twilight before sunrise, the exact moment the first weakest rays of the sun are visible at one’s particular location on earth, which occurs when the sun is roughly 18 degrees below the horizon. At Montauk, this moment is precisely 1 hour and 55 minutes before sunrise. About an hour later comes nautical dawn, the moment an alert sailor on watch can recognize shapes out of the darkness. Half an hour later comes civil dawn, when people can make out the faces of friends at a distance. These times change every day with the seasons.

Since the beginning, mankind has believed that dawn scares away the haints and demons of the night. Over the Ark of the Torah, the Jews have inscribed the command, “Let there be light!” for the past 6,000 years.

So far so good.

A famous Australian bush poet named Banjo Paterson lived beside the Ozian seas and last century wrote this poem, which rings true for Montauk, too:

Sunrise on the Coast

Grey dawn on the sand-hills -- the night wind has drifted
All night from the rollers a scent of the sea;
With the dawn the grey fog his battalions has lifted,
At the call of the morning they scatter and flee.

Like mariners calling the roll of their number
The sea-fowl put out to the infinite deep.
And far overhead -- sinking softly to slumber --
Worn out by their watching the stars fall asleep.

To eastward, where rests the broad dome of the skies on
The sea-line, stirs softly the curtain of night;
And far from behind the enshrouded horizon
Comes the voice of a god saying "Let there be light."

And lo, there is light! Evanescent and tender,
It glows ruby-red where it was ashen-grey;
And purple and scarlet and gold in its splendour --
Behold, 'tis that marvel, the birth of a day!


TRUE FUN: Heather Bowen D’Agostino is the editor of which is a delightful selection of things to do, buy and think about for kids who visit Montauk. She provides a day-by-day calendar of music venues; a guide for parks; where to get kids lessons; what restaurants treat kids nicely; and a lot more. is worth reading every day because kids aren’t the only ones who will enjoy child-oriented tips and clues. Above is a picture of Heather on a recent foggy morning at Ditch Plains. She is deep in a lively discussion with Surfer Bob from Air and Speed surfing store..

Where to see the sunrise? The point on which the Montauk Lighthouse stands is as far east as Long Island goes. In New York State, the dawn appears first to Montauk (and the peak of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire catches dawn first in the United States). In Montauk you may watch the sunrise along with many sunrise lovers from all over, including many Korean people who are passionate about the break of day. (Daily sunrise and sunset times are available for Montauk at with the ZIP code 11954.

Any ocean-side beach or promontory, including the campground at Hither Hills, the cliffs near Ditch Plains, the east lawns of the Montauk Manor and the penthouse balcony of the “Headquarters” skyscraper in Montauk town are prime dawn watching places.

The Best Coffee in Town

For many years now, the Montauk Bakery Shoppe has charmingly boasted on a hand-lettered sign posted at the front door that its coffee is the best coffee in town.

Clearly, the effort and care the Steil family lavishes on their bakery’s coffee service is widely appreciated. To chew a bagel or a fresh, warm croissant and sip from a cup of delicious and fragrant coffee while people sit, feed the sparrows and people-watch on the wooden benches outside the bakery is a Montauk morning ritual.

A blind taste test was promulgated on July 30, 2009 among coffees from the Bake Shoppe, John’s Pancake House, Salivar’s, Ronnie’s Grocery and Deli, and the new “Just Coffee” trailer in the parking lot across from the IGA store.

The End’s Golden Coffee Spoon goes to the Montauk Bake Shoppe by a narrow but statistically significant margin. Their coffee is rich enough, vigorous enough, strong enough, not quite deep or smooth enough, but close, and its flavors are harmonious enough and the kick is strong enough. It’s not as noble a drink as you get at Hacienda de Esmerelda Geisha de Panama or Fazenda Santa Ines in Brazil, but what the hell, it’s still the best here at home 

A Dozen Urns of Fragrant Coffee Serve the Mighty Thirst At the Montauk Bake Shoppe 

The Silvery Coffee Spoon goes to a rank newcomer ~ “Just Coffee” ~ a trailer in which coffee is brewed each morning by a lovely and well-educated Oregonian coffee barista. (If there’s anything folks know oodles about in Oregon it’s coffee and pot.) Arrive at the trailer before 7 a.m. and any sized cup from 12 to 20 ounces is yours for just $1. Only the regular brew was tested; Just Coffee also offers espresso, latte, mocha, chai tea and whatever else a gourmet caffeine aficionado might desire. The fire engine red coffee trailer, custom-made in Alabama, is ultra-clean and super cute.

The new "Just Coffee" Trailer parks in the lot across from the IGA store

The Stainless Steel Coffee Spoon is bestowed with pleasure and gratitude upon John’s Pancake House, which brews a sturdy, reliable, vigorous, standard American-blend of java that is served in white porcelain mugs by strong and snappy waitresses.

Hundreds of Mugs of Coffee Each Day Are Brewed At This Small Station in John ‘s Pancake House

Runners-up are Ronnie’s Deli, which offers a decent commercial coffee in a half-dozen oddly flavored blends, and Salivar’s, where the coffee is drinkable when it’s not scorched.


 Coffee at Ronnie’s Deli Goes Good with Fresh-Fried Cinnamon Donuts

Drink a Beer and Watch the Fishing Boats at Salivar’s. Pass on the Coffee

Note: Savvy restaurateurs employ a coffee-based guestimate when they try to figure out how much a particular establishment earns in net profits after taxes. Simply determine the true number of cups of coffee sold annually and multiply by $1. 

Monday, July 20, 2009


This is the summer of wild lightning in Montauk.

Not in years has the town absorbed so many bolts on an almost daily basis.

Many of the storms have come through at night, from about 9 o’clock until just after sunrise, so that people have taken comfort in their snug beds but they stay awake to see the black sky flash bright with electric light and hear the rumble in the distance and the ear-splitting cracks of nearby strikes.

By rough estimate there have been more than 1,000 lightning bolts loosed within a seven mile radius of Montauk since the first of the seasonal electrical storms came through in late May. East Hampton police say there have been no people reported hit by lightning in Montauk so far this year, but there have been golf club stories of near misses, and an unwitting computer or two has been lobotomized by a power surge from a close-by hit.

There are prime locations in Montauk from which to watch storms approach and engulf the town. The best is the parking lot on the inlet back of Gosman’s.

Looking northwest toward the Connecticut shore from the Gosman’s back parking lot.

The mountainous charcoal thunderheads boil across the waters of Long Island Sound from Connecticut. Montaukers are habitual watchers of weather radar and when a big yellow and red maybe even purple Doppler-spotted storm cell is headed Montauk’s way, the true storm watchers appear as if summoned by witchcraft. They gaze on in wonder from the shelter of their cars and trucks. When the squall line comes straight down from north rather than sidewise from the west, the veterans know to expect brilliant fireworks and roof-rattling rains. Mother Nature seldom disappoints them.

Weather patterns for the next week or two indicate that the dry spell is over and the scattered, sometimes severe thunder-bumpers will be rolling through every day. Some sun worshippers are annoyed but the lovers and the flowers are not.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Montauk Monster Letter from the Yellow Bucket House

"Dear Editor,

“The Montauk Monster is part of a large and disreputable family that lives nocturnal lives in the Shad bushes growing on the dunes that slope down to the Atlantic beaches along the south banks of the Old Montauk Highway between the Hither Hills and the flat stretch before town.

“My house, known by Pink Tuna taxi drivers as The Yellow Bucket House, is situated on the shoulder of a dune overlooking the ocean about 92 feet above sea level, and on the slope between the house and the toe of the dune are mostly small firs and white oaks and the Shads, which can grow to about 30 feet tall. Each Shad bush sends out countless long stalks of wiry tendrils, and when many Shads get together and hug, the underbrush gets entwined and thick, and darkly shady, and it’s hard for dogs, big cats and humans to poke into.

Poison Ivy Guards Monster Dwellings

“To cut a serious path into the Shad with a sharp machete takes hours of muscular whacks and slashes. In summer, the world’s meanest poison ivy is plushy purple and green and greasy with urushiol oil that glistens on its three-leaf clusters. When the tough vines are sliced and its leaves are shred, poison ivy sprays and splashes itchy agony everywhere the sword arcs.
“Naturally, Montauk Monsters know where to hide, and where they hide is deep inside the Shad thickets.
“The moral of this tale is: When in Montauk, stick to the old beach paths and stay out of the Shad, particularly at night.”

The letter is signed: Ben Luck, co-founder and chairman of the Montauk Monster Trust, a non-profit organization “dedicated to the spirit of Montauk Monsters everywhere.”

There’s a long P.S.:

“Old Algonquin storytellers tell the following story:

“The eternal guardians of the Shad are the black rat snakes. They grow up to eight feet long and as big around as your forearm. They are constrictors and have no venom but one annoying habit they do have is to snuggle up tight at night against a warm human thigh or buttocks, with no bad intentions, mind you.

The Black Snake, a.k.a., Rat Snake or Pilot Snake

“However, some folks tend to find the black rat snake’s attentions unwanted. But black snakes are not too intelligent, and like some house guests they don’t notice when they are unwelcome. At night, ‘round the bonfire, it is wise to sit toward the surf and away from the beach grasses and the driftwood logs. Blacksnakes don’t like to cross open sand.

“Other denizens of the Shad include the local brown coneys, who are rabbits, small dens of red foxes, a feral cat or two, battalions of little mice and a few dune rats, white tail deer by the hundreds, fewer frogs than once upon a time (and thus fewer princes, too), and also the Montauk raccoons, who are a lot more clever and civilized than almost anyone new to Long Island gives them credit for.

“In fact, raccoons are shy, clean, astonishingly smart mammals, and their social systems and behaviors are remarkably like that of the young men and women who come to live in Montauk each summer. The following is what enthnologists who contribute to Wikipedia say about the kind of raccoons who live along the Montauk coast. How do their descriptions coincide with true life among Montauk’s summer people?

Quote: ‘Related females often live in a so-called fission-fusion society, that is, they share a common area and occasionally meet at feeding or resting grounds.

“ ‘Unrelated males often form loose male social groups to maintain their position against foreign males during the mating season or other potential invaders. Such a group does not usually consist of more than four individuals. Since some males show aggressive behavior towards unrelated kits, mothers will isolate themselves from other raccoons until their kits are big enough to defend themselves.

“ ‘With respect to these three different modes of life prevalent among raccoons, Hohmann calls their social structure a three class society. Samuel I. Zeveloff, professor of zoology at Weber State University in Utah and author of the book Raccoons: A Natural History is more cautious in his interpretation and concludes that at least the females are solitary most of the time and, according to Erik K. Fritzell's study in North Dakota in 1978, males in areas with low population densities are as well.’”

A Solitary Montauk Raccoon at Dawn in a Fir Tree at the Yellow Bucket House

“Raccoons also have very long memories. (They can remember how to open a complicated lock nearly three years after first learning to). They have a super-hyper-sensitive forepaws that can feel the heartbeat of an oyster through its shell with nerve-stuffed fleshy fingers, without a thumb, that work best when wet.

“Raccoons stand up on their hind legs and can reach and delicately examine something with their paws that is more than three feet high. They can plot, climb, think ahead, repair Swiss watches, and when they are lonely, which being solitary sometimes encourages, they can feel on their palms the gentle tingle that starlight makes when you put your palms up to the night sky.

Some scientists say the Algonquin Indians (who called the creatures something that sounded to the Dutch ear like raccoon) thought of the black-masked raccoons as demi-gods who were immensely talented with their fingers. Most geneticists think that raccoons are small, long-tailed bears.

A certain disreputable raccoon family is known to hang about the oaks and fir trees at the Yellow Bucket House. If they can sneak past the canine sentries of Homer, Harry and Polly, they capture the flag and are welcome, even in the outdoor shower garden. The raccoon family comes around always at night, they eat and romp until dawn, and then they high-tail it across the highway and disappear back into the Shad and the tangles of limbs and vines that they call home.
“The raccoon grapevine confirms that The Montauk Monster, whose water-logged and decomposed corpse was discovered bound execution style just a thousand yards toward town from the Yellow Bucket beach, was actually a notorious local raccoon named Romeo Rick, who was assassinated by the Brooklyn mob for many complicated reasons.

“Montauk’s notorious raccoon families are not insulted or upset that Romeo Rick’s body has caused a worldwide shudder. The slander about Romeo being a mutant escapee from the Plum Island secret laboratories delights the raccoon intelligencia. The raccoons figure that if enough people are terrified that Montauk Monsters live in the local Shad, there will be increased solitude for all Montauk raccoons ~ and the blessings of unintended consequences.”

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Montauk Monster Celebrates First Birthday on July 23

The Montauk Monster, an international Internet phenomenon, celebrates its first birthday on July 23.

We have diligently researched the 1,110,000 stories on Google about the Monster, and listened carefully to many opinions by the smartest people in town. Our office is about a mile from where the Monster’s corpse was discovered, under the most suspicious of circumstances, by people with a wicked sense of humor.

Naturally, the whole Monster story, which hinged upon the entirely unsubstantiated suggestion that the ugly dead “thing” was an escapee from the federal Plum Island top secret quarantined viral gene-swapping facilities across the bay. Nothing on earth is more viral than the Internet, and so somewhere in Tibet and North Korea and Argentina there are people infected with the Montauk Monster myth.

A citizen can be proud that most Montaukers have not given in to the greedy impulse to vend Montauk Monster sweatshirts, except under the counter. There is diffidence among the people of the town that Montauk might forever be associated in earthling’s minds as monsters, except if they compete in rugby.

Nonetheless, Montauk is a town where the most popular holiday of the year is not Christmas, New Year’s, July 4th or St. Patrick’s Day, but Halloween. People of Montauk cannot help but harbor a soft spot in their hearts for frightening ideas.

So, as a first birthday gift, we propose that July 23 be hereafter known as Montauk Monster Day, a day of reflection.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 30 MPH Speed Limit

Tourists in cars, trucks and cycles may ignore Montauk’s 30 MPH speed limit, at their peril.

With visitors walking into the highway from between cars, and children running across the road from motels and hotels, and all the deer who leap from the bushes at night, 30 MPH is about the top speed anyone can drive, for the safety of themselves and others. The Easthampton police have deployed many cars on both the Old Montauk Highway and the new one and they revel in catching speeders who are going faster than 40 MPH. This is a word to the wise: in Montauk, stick to slow speeds and enjoy the views. The Easthampton Star’s police blotter section is obese with reports on speeding violations, as well as drunken driving arrests. To stay out of those pages, keep your eye on the speedometer. Never pass where there are double yellow lines, even if you own a Mercedes or a Hummer and think you reek of clout. You will learn differently after the red lights flash in the rearview, and if you hit a person, and you are under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, you can expect to experience an East End cell and get the book thrown at you.

An Ageless Inn Flaunts Her Brilliance

At the age of 80 years, Gurney’s Inn is a grand old hotel that is taken a bit for granted in Montauk. The old gal showed off at her finest on July 4th night under a nearly full moon (it’s full on July 7) in an inky dark sky with softly luminous puffy clouds sailing by and the moonbeams lighting a silvery path on the quietly sensual sea.

There was a full house, plus a big wedding. At 9:15 p.m., when dusk had just turned dark, the first of the skyrockets rose from the launch site at Umbrella Beach about a mile east toward the town and burst into cascades of scarlet and silver glitter about 1,000 feet in the air, far enough away so that the muffled sound of the gunpowder explosions were heard several seconds after the showers of embers and sparks were visible.

Within ten minutes there were several hundred very nicely dressed wedding guests, plus the bride and groom (she petite and he a shaved-head hulk) and the little flower girls in long white dresses who turned floppy somersaults on the sand.

The professional fireworks were produced by the famous Italian Grucci family (since 1850), who staged a virtuoso half-hour exhibition of what pyrotechnicians can do, including some amazing square burst shapes that defy easy explanation. The finale was dazzling and the Gruccis earned their applause.

But within a minute, a “local” pyrotechnician with so-called “South Carolina” fireworks set off a ten-or-so-minute barrage at the far end of the Gurney’s property which was just about 100 yards from where the bulk of the guests were gathered. The crowd enjoyed the high excitement and noise that comes from rockets and flares bursting almost overhead. The oooohs and aaaahs and applause were many times more enthusiastic for the smaller, more local display and Gurney’s guests were delighted at their luck.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Books by the Pound

At precisely 3 o’clock on a Kodachrome perfect July 4th afternoon arrived the end of the Montauk Book Fair on the town green, where from 9 o’clock in the morning books are sold by the tens of thousands ~ not by the cover price but by the pound.

Going price per pound: $1.75.

The 2009 Book Fair was graced by the most exquisite summer blue skies, fair and cooling breezes from the ocean, and a happy band of Montauk Library friends and employees, whose hospitality and alertness made anyone nearby smile.

The eastern half of the grassy green was set out in the open air with long tables upon which box after cardboard box of books of all sorts and sizes were laid, at first in some kind of order (music, biography, sex, art, diplomacy, cooking, etc.) As the morning moved on, things got a bit messier and disorganized, until, by the end, the remnants of books were all pushed together and the $1.75 price was waived and anybody who cared to carry away a box full of books (piled high as you like) might do so for just $3 for the whole kit’n’caboodle.

“What happens to the books that are still here when you all are ready to go home?” we asked of the library lady behind the glass jar stuffed with dollar bills.

“They all go in the Dumpster,” she said apologetically. “We’ve been doing this for 25 years, and nobody will take what’s left. Nobody wants even one of them. We can’t store them, and old age homes don’t seem to want them, so we must dump them.”

“How would it be if a listing of the Dumpster books were made so that we can see the authors and titles that absolutely nobody will save from the landfill or the incinerator?"

Oh, no!” she gasped and touched her mouth to close it. “That would take us weeks and weeks. There’s no budget for it. The names of the dumped will have to remain unknown.”

We stuck around until Mickey’s trash truck showed up, and took a long, sad look at those books that were destined to have been consigned to the grave. At the last moment, we saved twenty, in two full boxes. Among them:

The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving; Hercule Poirot’s Casebook Agatha Christie; The Island, Peter Benchley; The Covenant & Chesapeake, James A. Michener; Dead Silence, Randy Wayne White; The Last Best Hope, Ed McBain; Nevermore, William Hjortsberg.

We then bid a melancholy goodbye to the thousand or so sad and fearful books who were overlooked or rejected by thousands of book-loving people, none of whom would rescue them for any price. Those who Mickey’s carted away were mostly biographies of people you might have heard of, by authors or ghost writers you haven’t; a family of Tom Clancys; a tribe of bodice rippers; a few Art Buchwalds and a biography of Sigmund Freud by Irving Stone. Missing entirely from the doomed piles were cookbooks, poetry and picture books.

We wondered: Have any of our readers ever, with malice aforethought, consigned a book to the Dumpster or the equivalent fate?

Friday, July 3, 2009

2,000 Words Worth of Montauk Pictures

Montauk Man in Yellow Canoe

Known far and wide in the bayous of Baton Rouge as a hyper-realist, Neese Greenwood says here sculpture only stretches the truth a little bit.

Montauk Fishermen

In front of the Montauk Bake Shoppe back in early June, three veteran Montauk fishermen confidently displayed the award-winning clay sculpture dedicated to those who fish the rocks and beaches of The End and the turbulent waters beyond. The sculptor is Neese Greenwood of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The fishermen namelessly represent their breed.