Is it really Week Eleven? Really? Or should this be counted as Week One in the Phase One reopening of Suffolk County?
How long is eleven weeks anyway? Appropriating the old saw about age, eleven weeks is only as long as it feels. But that’s just another way of saying that it’s subjective. Due to the elasticity of time and space in the masked and isolated social distance continuum of the pandemic, some would suggest that it feels more like six months or a year. Some others, feeling completely unmoored with no solid sense of intention or achievement to anchor them, might say it seems like only a few days since the door was closed on the life we knew before.
And now, in the first days of Phase One, any reliable conception of a new normal still seems as elusive as the wisps of an evaporating dream. The only certainty we have is the same as what we came to understand about ten weeks ago: nobody can say for certain what we can expect life to be like in Phase One, or Two, or Three or Four, or even after we’ve finally moved beyond all the phases.
When At Quaquanantuck was a small, sugar crazed child, I used to begin every evening meal with the same question: “What’s for dessert?” And my mother—intent of having me eat all my vegetables and perhaps trying to ensure that I would never develop the self-sabotaging habit of getting ahead of myself (sorry, Mom; a failure there)—would say: “It’s wait-and-see pudding.”
Week Eleven or Week One: it makes no difference. That’s why from here on out, At Quaquanantuck is going to stop counting; maybe change up the downbeat prison sentence mentality and energy. However we choose to mind the time, we’re no closer now to a clear vision of what the future holds than we were on March 12 when the curtain came down.
Want to know what awaits on the other side of all this, should we ever be blessed enough to get there? Looks like it’s going to be wait-and-see pudding; I only hope it tastes like the very best dessert to each and every one of us.
And so it goes in the days of the novel coronavirus today.
This week, At Quaquanantuck offers the third in a series of short takes on writers in our midst who are continuing to do what they’ve always done: writing; teaching; and publishing. Previous columns looked at Denise Roland and Roger Rosenblatt; this week the subject is Harper’s Magazine editor and author Christopher Beha.
The Many Hats of Christopher Beha
If a news peg could somehow suffice for a shorthand portrait of the man, it would be that Christopher Beha’s newest novel, “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” (Tin House Books; Portland, Oregon), was published May 5.
But that news peg only renders a stick figure. As noted above, after serving in several other editorial positions, he is now the editor-in-chief of Harper’s Magazine, a post he has held at the revered monthly magazine of literature, politics, culture, finance, and the arts since October 2019.
As an author, his other works include a memoir, “The Whole Five Feet,” and two other novels, “Arts & Entertainments” and “What Happened to Sophie Wilder.” Mr. Beha, who is married to the novelist Alexandra Andrews, will be featured in the Quogue Library’s Conversations with the Author series this summer.
As he wrote in an email this week, the editor and author has had “a somewhat atypical quarantine. On the same day—almost the same moment—that New York City went into lockdown, my wife gave birth to our second child. After a brief stint in the NICU, we escaped Brooklyn for Quogue. So the biggest challenge of working from home for me is that I’ve got a newborn and a 3-year-old.”
“Meanwhile,” he continued, “my wife Alexandra is doing the final passes on her own novel, which comes out next year. We are very grateful that our daughter has a little room to run here, unlike in Brooklyn Heights. As for the work itself, much of my job is easily portable—reading, editing, speaking with writers. But there are other parts, particularly the production work, that is a challenge to do remotely.
“I have a very smart, hardworking staff, and I am generally used to walking the halls, checking in with each of them. A lot of ideas come out of these conversations, which aren’t really happening now. I know many people have suggested the quarantine will accelerate the move to the post-office world, but I have been acutely aware of how much I miss face-to-face contact with my colleagues.”
Asked by At Quaquanantuck for some thoughts, from the author’s perspective, on what “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” is about, Mr. Beha offered this response:
“As a writer, I always begin with the characters and their situation, so I would answer this question just by saying that the book is about a collection of people living in New York in 2009—soon after the financial crash and Obama’s election—dealing in various ways with the consequences of their own bad decisions. Theme always comes later for me, but on that front I might say that it is about the limits of our efforts to remove human error from life, to predict the future, and to put our decisions on an entirely rational footing.”
Only a few pages into reading the book, At Quaquanantuck has already found resonance for the nation’s current circumstances in the themes as the author describes them. For example, in a time when no one can predict with any certainty what the long term social, political, cultural and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic will be, consider the following passage: “The sheer amount of available information meant that data could be arranged to support every conceivable idea. The test of knowledge was what it told you about tomorrow.”
Or this: “The future wasn’t fixed, waiting somewhere for us to arrive. It was brought into being by chance, contingency, unintended consequences. The best we could do was work out the odds.”
At Quaquanantuck is also already quite taken with Mr. Beha’s sometimes slyly pointed observations about a culture obsessed with—and in many respects dominated by—social media.
Early praise for the new novel from multiple sources yields a picture of the author as a writer in full command of his craft.
“Beha’s earlier work has been rightfully compared to the work of Graham Greene, and in this new novel Beha does what only Greene and a handful of other novelists have been able to accomplish: make God, belief, and doubt the stuff of serious fiction―even down to the probing dialogue of his characters.” —The Millions
“Filled with stunning acts of hubris and betrayal, Beha’s deliciously downbeat novel picks apart the zeitgeist, revealing a culture of schemers and charlatans.” —Publishers Weekly
Colum McCann, author of “Let the Great World Spin,” calls “The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” a “significant novel, beautifully crafted and deeply felt. Beha creates a high bonfire of our era’s vanities.” Lisa Taddeo, author of “Three Women,” predicts that “‘The Index’ is bound to become a must-read of our time.”
Jonathan Dee, author of “The Locals,” sums it up this way: “Beha is a sneaky-great plot-maker and thinker; by the time he wraps up this compassionate 21st-century tale of ambitious people looking for somewhere to place their faith―religion, statistics, love, money, country―you can see the clouds starting to gather into the moral Category 5 we’re currently enduring.”
At Quaquanantuck is looking forward, after finishing this marvelous novel, to hearing more from the author, editor, father and part-time Quogue resident at the library event on Sunday, July 26, in whatever form it takes. Stay tuned for details in the coming weeks.
The Mayor’s Corner: Moving “Forward”; Market Makeover; New Tax Deadline
As might be expected, the lead item in this week’s letter to Quogue residents from Mayor Peter Sartorius is related to what amounts to a “soft” New York Forward reopening of Suffolk County under Phase One of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to restart the state.
The most significant change for the East End is the permission for construction projects to resume. As Hizzoner quipped: “No more looking at inactive, partially completed building sites.” Beyond construction getting underway again, non-essential retail businesses can open for in-store and curbside delivery and pick-up, whereas formerly only a single employee could be present for curbside delivery of telephone and on-line orders.
Business owners are still required to jump through some bureaucratic hoops: they must “read the reopening guidelines pertaining to the business and affirm to whomever in the State is monitoring that he or she will abide by them. The Phase One guidelines also indicate that they need to prepare and post on the premises a safety plan.
Details on NY Phase One are available at forward.ny.gov/industries-reopening-phase, including a safety plan template, which the Mayor considers—and At Quaquanantuck concurs—not particularly helpful.
In this week’s letter, Hizzoner gave a shout-out to Angela Freeman and her new partner Elizabeth Lockwood, who “expended a good deal of thought and TLC restoring” the Quogue Market’s “older country store” appearance and ambience. Beyond visiting to appreciate the makeover of the market, the Mayor urged residents to “use it!” (See On Jessup Avenue below)
While Village 2020-2021 tax bills are going out this week, thanks to a 21-day extension issued by Governor Cuomo (at the request of the Quogue Village Board), residents will have until July 22 to pay. The Mayor also noted that questions related to the Town of Southampton second-half tax bills due on June 1 (because May 31 is a Sunday) should be addressed to the town Receiver of Taxes at 631-702-2470.
The Mayor’s weekly letter also noted that Memorial Day weekend saw only modest crowds at the Quogue Village Beach due to the less than ideal weather. Those who did visit were introduced to the slow paced Covid-19-induced pedestrian flow, the Mayor said, and many who tried to visit but did not make it past the gate attendant “were reminded to bring a face mask next time and some proof of residency in Quogue so that on a nicer weekend they will not be turned away again.”
And while gatherings of up to 10 people are now permitted in New York, the Mayor reminded residents that social distancing and face covering practices must still be observed.
Remember, readers who’d like to receive Hizzoner’s email blasts can send an email to ABuhl@villageofquogueny.gov and ask to be put on the email list. The other way to see the most current, and all the Mayor’s letters, is to go to www.villageofquogueny.gov and click on Announcements. While on the Village website, be sure to check out the home page for other news and Covid-19 updates.
Before There Was a Memorial Day, Quogue Had a Monument
Courtesy of the Quogue Historical Society, At Quaquanantuck is able to share with readers this week a bit of history about the perennial centerpiece of Memorial Day remembrances in our village, the World War II monument.
In 1950, 20 years before Memorial Day became a national holiday, Quogue unveiled its new World War II monument, prominently located in front of the Quogue Fire Department where it still stands today. In those days of far more orderly crowds, The County Review reported that more than 2,000 people descended on the village for the unveiling ceremony; respect for the occasion and the cool heads of the Quogue police force combined to keep things under control, with no contretemps.
Village residents of a certain age (some of whom might have been justly or unjustly labeled as miscreants in their youth) will certainly remember the dynamic duo of Quogue Police Chief Ross Federico and Officer Sigmund (“Ziggy”) Misiewicz, longtime keepers of the peace in Quogue. No stretch of the imagination is required to believe that these two, with the help of Bernt Carlson and State Trooper Henry Resling, could keep even a crowd of this magnitude under control.
For the keynote remarks that day, the QHS tells us, Judge Harold Medina extolled “this American way of life … because the founders of our government fought for it, and because following in their footsteps those whose names appear on the monument shortly to be unveiled fought to preserve all these things in order that you and I might enjoy them.”
The dedication ceremony was put together by a committee of Harry E. Herman, chairman; Harold Connett, Harvey E. Cooley, Henry H. Gardiner, Mrs. Walter E. Golding Jr., John G. Hardy, Frederic McCoun, Mrs. Edward T. Otis Jr., Robert G. Page, Robert Payne, and Fred Soehlke. The program featured music by the Westhampton Beach High School Band, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars raised the flag with the help of the Boy Scouts, who saluted it.
While responsible social distancing precluded the traditional Memorial Day service this year, as the QHS pointed out, any day is a good day to stop by the World War II monument and reflect on the heroism of those who died in the service of our nation and defending “this American way of life.”
Just as every day provides another opportunity to spare a good thought for those who are putting themselves in harm’s way in order to care for and provide for the rest of us during the coronavirus pandemic.
With so much wonderful, and timely, material being generated by the Quogue Historical Society these days, At Quaquanantuck is forced to once again push back a QHS tale of neighbors helping neighbors during the Flu Pandemic of 1918. And please remember that anyone with anecdotes about their relatives, photos, or more detailed information about the experiences of Quogue residents during the 1918 Flu Pandemic is encouraged to share with readers by emailing AtQuaq@gmail.com.
On Jessup Avenue: Things Are Picking Up
Curious as to what a “soft opening” might look like at the Quogue Market, At Quaquanantuck biked over to Jessup Avenue on deadline day only to discover that there had been nothing in the least soft about commerce over the weekend at the newly reimagined store. New partner Elizabeth Lockwood shared that she and Angela Freeman and their staff had “hit the ground running” off the seasonal starting line on Friday of Memorial Day weekend.
The first thing a visitor notices, even before taking in the country casual and inviting decor and layout, is that the off-season makeover of the space took aim first at the painful glare fluorescent ceiling lighting. The problem was handled by painting the ceiling black and suspending light fixtures throughout the store, while maintaining sufficiently bright illumination in the deli area for proper slicing, spreading, stuffing and other sandwich preparation activities along with filling all manner of customer requests.
The two women have set up some cozy seating areas for patrons to enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat once the Covid-19 social distancing safety protocols have been relaxed, whenever that might be. Within the next two weeks, Angela said, they will finalize the Market’s online menu and launch a new website with access for online orders. For now, patrons are invited to call in breakfast and lunch as well as grocery orders at 631-653-4191, or stop by and check out the new look and feel while placing your order at the store.
“We’re doing everything we can,” Elizabeth said, “to fill the need for a great local market in the community.” For At Quaquanantuck, the first takeaway is that they are off to a great start.
Theresa Fontana was spotted on Jessup Avenue on Wednesday, walking from the Little Q Quogue Shop on the north side of the Quogue Market down the street to her new store, Beach House at 164 Jessup Ave. in the building that formerly was home to the Real Estate Store.
This newest addition to Theresa’s family of Quogue shops has similar hours, open seven days from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (“and sometimes till 5”). She defines the new store as an “essential shop” in Quogue, “specializing in goodies for your … well, Beach House!”
“Where else can you find Q bathroom tissue or paper towels?” she wrote in an email, adding that “We carry essential items, including sanitizer, pens, paper, masks, packaged food and summer treats. Our signature style is beach balls hanging everywhere.”
To contact the Little Q-Quogue Shop at 144 Jessup Avenue, call 631-653-6515; to reach the Beach House, call 631-653-6559.
Garden Club Awards Scholarship to Skye McMorris
Skye McMorris, a senior at Hampton Bays High School, has been awarded $2,000 scholarship for 2020 presented by the Westhampton Garden Club. The daughter of Eleni and David McMorris, Skye has been admitted to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst where she is enrolling in the Biological Sciences Talent Advanced Program (BioTAP).
BioTAP is an invitation-only residential academic program for first-year Honors College students who are admitted as biological science majors. Invitation to BioTAP is based on criteria set by the Department of Biology, and is limited to 48 Honors College students.
Skye’s passion for science developed as a member of the HBHS Science Research program, where she is currently studying the settlement and metamorphosis of an invasive species of marine invertebrate under the supervision of a University of New Hampshire professor.
Growing up in a family that used environmentally responsible practices in their garden and enjoyed kayaking through nearby waterways, the 2020 scholarship winner has demonstrated a real commitment to conservation, especially on the East End. She participates in the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Project, founded by the Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS). Part of the Restoration Project’s mission includes the seeding of clams in order to restore shellfish population, with the bivalves also acting as natural filters to reduce nitrogen levels in the water.
Skye also has volunteered with the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program assisting in some of the local research projects for coastal restoration.
“Part of the Westhampton Garden Club’s mission statement is to promote the conservation of native plants, woodlands, open space and waterways,” WGC Scholarship Chair Diane Stewart pointed out in a release announcing the awarding of this year’s scholarship. “So we were very impressed with Skye’s understanding that we can all address environmental issues locally as a contribution to larger efforts. We welcome graduating seniors with an interest in fields related to horticulture and conservation to apply for the WGC scholarship in 2021.”
At Quaquanantuck applauds Skye McMorris and the Westhampton Garden Club for the high level of commitment that both have demonstrated to protecting the local environment and restoring the health of the region’s diverse ecosystems, providing laudable models for us all.
Nature Corner: Nature News; New Text-to-Donate App; June Calendar Online
By now, many readers and fans of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge are aware of #qwrnaturenews, the new Nature News program live on Facebook on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 p.m. with QWR animals and staff presenting short segments of fun and education.
What readers likely do not know is the topic of the #qwrnaturenews slated for today, Thursday, May 28, at 1 p.m. Thanks to a hot tip received from an unnamed source, though, At Quaquanantuck is able to share with readers that today’s show will be all about “Fish of Old Ice Pond.”
The program typically offers a unique look inside the Refuge with an approximately 10-minute education piece followed by an interactive section with viewers urged to ask questions and answer trivia to test their knowledge.
For Facebook users who miss a segment, the recording will remain on the QWR FB page as a post that people can continue to view. For those who don’t use Facebook, all videos are being posted on the QWR YouTube channel, #qwrnaturenews, afterwards. For more information on the program, click here.
Meanwhile, all the QWR virtual programs and live social distance programs—including Earth Yoga Outside with Amy Hess on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. (weather permitting)— scheduled for June have been uploaded to the Refuge website. For details, click here, or visit www.quoguewildliferefuge.org, click on the Programs tab at the top, then click on Events Calendar on the drop down.
In other breaking news from that slice of paradise on the northern edge of the village, the Quogue Wildlife Refuge has announced the development of a new “text to donate” app for smart phone users. Whether walking the trails of the QWR and stunned by all the joy, education, serenity, immersion in nature, and sense of community the Refuge represents, or sitting at home and reflecting on this conservation jewel, area residents can text QWR2020 to 202-858-1233 and the new app will lead them to a very simple donation form, right on their cell phones.
With limited or no camps for young nature lovers this summer and no Wild Night for Wildlife gala benefit, the Refuge needs residents’ support now more than ever before. How lovely then to have the act of making a donation rendered so convenient.
Next week, At Quaquanantuck is hoping to get to another stirring saga of gastropod love life, this time in the mating cycle of the brown lipped snail, thanks to information and references received from the knowledgeable folks at the Refuge in response to yet another query from this columnist. Readers are asked to please support this vital resource for all of us with whatever donations you can manage.
Readers are reminded that although the Nature Center and facilities are closed, the trails at the QWR remain open, to counterclockwise single direction access only and with adequate social distancing and other protocols required.
Library Adopts More Efficient Registration for Virtual Programs
A host of great virtual programs hosted by the Quogue Library for young and old coming up over the next few weeks. Registration is now a simple matter via pointing and clicking on the library website. (Detailed instructions below.)
For children age 6 to 11, the library is offering a Quogue Wildllife Refuge Conservation for Kids program on Thursday, June 4, at 4:30 p.m.
This program will introduce some ways that youngsters can become greener kids, helping our environment and the animals that live in it. The program will conclude with a recycled craft. Reservations are required; visit www.quoguelibrary.org and click on Conservation for Kids.
An Introduction to Cricut and Cameo for adults will be offered on Friday, May 29, at 7 p.m. The Cricut is a cutting, scoring, and writing machine, all guided by computer. It does exactly what the user tells it to do, precisely and efficiently.
The Cameo is another style of die cutting machine, used to cut paper, vinyl, fabric, heat transfer material, and more. Participants will see live examples of some of the many things that can be made with these machines.
Courtesy of the library, Leisa M. DeCarlo will be offering a couple of free Zoom fitness classes for adults in June. First up is a Pilates Mat class on Mondays, June 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29 at 10 a.m.
Aimed at lengthening and toning muscles with low impact and high result, the Pilates Mat full-body workout uses customized sequencing and “fun” variations to cultivate long, lean lines and a deep mind-body connection. Leisa offers modifications to give every individual, from beginner to advanced, the tools to feel energized and empowered, tailoring each class to build muscle, control, and range of motion while remaining attentive to form, breath, and mindful, effective practice.
On Wednesdays, June 3, 10, 17, and 24 at 2 p.m. Leisa will offer a free library Zoom Dance Cardio + Sculpting class. The library description indicates that “high energy and fun drive this class for a liberating, enjoyable approach to follow-along dance cardio, stretching, and sculpting.”
This beginner dance/sculpting class encourages everyone to become “more comfortable, safe, free, and confident in their own bodies, while developing a commitment to the lifelong health and wellness benefits of movement.” No previous dance experience is required; no equipment needed.
As noted above, the Quogue Library has implemented a new procedure for patrons wishing to register for any one of the roster of virtual programs.
Patrons can now go to the library’s home page at www.Quoguelibrary.org; click on the flier image of the program for which they wish to register; fill in the requested information; scroll to the bottom of the page (remembering to check “I am not a Robot”) and hit Register. A confirmation email with Zoom login information will be sent to all registered patrons.
Your Comments Welcome
At Quaquanantuck is happy to provide a forum for civil discussion of village issues and initiatives and welcomes all comments. All are encouraged to share observations, ideas and opinions by writing to AtQuaq@gmail.com.
At Quaquanantuck encourages readers to send in news and notes and photos of interest to Quogue residents, even if the items are being sent from winter addresses or other parts of the country—or the world. Friends and family who enjoy all things Quogue are encouraged to email AtQuaq@gmail.com and ask to be put on the mailing list.