Pop Culture
Jul 08, 2008, 06:13AM

Escape from New York

Diving in to another New York tradition—the weekend getaway to a calmer locale.

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Photo by jenschapter3

On occasion, you just need to get out of the city. Sometimes the noise, the crowds, and the nagging feeling that you should be doing more than just sitting inside reading a way-too-graphic book about the Black Death become too much and you need to get away. For many New Yorkers, this means a weekend away at their summer house—the woman I'm living with now escapes to her second home on Shelter Island, which I've heard described as "the Hamptons for people who refuse to use 'summer' as a verb." For me, it means spending time at my second home: my grandma's place on Long Island.

Long Island, where my mother grew up, is a de facto part of New York City. But my grandma's town of Laughlin (name changed to protect the innocent), only a 50-minute train ride from Penn Station, feels like a completely different universe from the place where I spend my hectic weekdays.

It's suburban and calm, and, if you go there on a Friday night as I often do, it's a ghost town. Why? Because it's an overwhelmingly Jewish community; on Friday night, almost everyone is at synagogue. I'm not exaggerating when I say that on a Friday evening, you could run down Central Ave. in Laughlin completely naked and not be seen by a single living soul. One of these days I'm going to try it.

I don't visit Laughlin for the calm and quiet, though. I go out there to see my Grandma Bea. As far as grandmothers go, Bea is the coolest. She's a 94-year-old firecracker with more social engagements than a hotel heiress, terrifyingly high Scrabble scores and a cheekily girlish smile I only get to see when we find ourselves in awkward but entertaining situations, like when we walked in on her elderly neighbor doing his laundry in his underwear.

Bea is, to use a phrase that definitely wasn’t in vogue when she was born in 1914, the shit. This woman has lived the kind of life that ought to be recorded in writing, a life which would render most people hard and bitter, but which has made her wise and generous and full of remarkable stories. She's kind of awesome, and I know she's reading this because she checks her email and plays bridge online every day. Like I said, she's the shit.

Last weekend I went out to Bea's for a short visit. After waiting through her appointment at the beauty parlor, where she gossiped with her manicurist and showed me off to her hairdresser, I was treated to lunch with her and three friends. We made our way to the local country club, where Saturday morning golfers were coming in off the green for lunch and martinis, and I found myself sitting at a table with four women over the age of 80. As a college student, it's rare for me to spend time with one octogenarian, let alone four. But every Saturday after their hair appointments, these women get together for lunch, to talk about the week and the world. It's what Sex and the City will look like five sequels from now, when the gals move out of the city and trade their Manolos for Hush Puppies; it's Sexless in the Suburbs.

These women take a great amount of pride and joy in their families and love to update each other on the lives of their children, grandchildren and, in some cases, great-grandchildren (don't even think about it, Bea; I'm only 20). As I sat quietly listening to them talk about what was happening in their large and extended families, the births, graduations and marriages, I was reminded of how important friends are in life. Some things fade with time, like your ability to walk in heels and the social acceptability of casual sex, but friendship is something you always need.

Family is crucial, of course, but what if you get stuck with a less-than-ideal family? What if, as was the case for Bea, one of your daughters moves to the other side of the world and raises her family there? What if you want to complain about your family, but your therapist can't see you until Tuesday?

By age 80, most people find themselves becoming increasingly isolated as they lose their mobility and their worlds become smaller. But for Bea and her friends, the greatest weapons against that isolation are their friendships. It takes effort to reach out to new people, to build new relationships and to foster the kind of community in which you feel comfortable and looked out for. Yet this is the kind of community I witnessed on Saturday, and that effort is one that these women make every weekend.

I am fortunate to have wonderful friends, people who call me on my bullshit and give excellent hugs, who enrich my life with their best qualities and challenge me with their worst. I'm in contact with some every day; we engage in flurries of text message catch-up sessions or exchange links to interesting and amusing newspaper articles through IM. Some of them I only get to see once a year, when we're faced with the immense challenge of condensing a year's worth of our hectic lives into one dinner conversation or coffee date. All of them are a part of the community I've worked to build during my short lifetime, and I sincerely look forward to the day when, after a session at the beauty parlor, I can introduce a few of them to my granddaughter. Minus the Hush Puppies.

  • i don' know about the "excellent hugs" part but I was born in New York City and loved going to my uncle's place in Southampton. i liked seeing trees and ponds and birds, unlike the city. but the traffic was awful on weekends and in town it often seemed just like manhattan.

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