By Michael Dweck
It was the summer of 2003, when I popped my head out of the Montauk sand and thought — as anyone does who's sat in the same place long enough — "Man, this place is changing!"
New faces. New restaurants. New cars. And my god! The traffic — miles of it lined up like small fishing boats chased in by a late-autumn nor'easter (that is, if the fishing boats blasted Z100 and were captained by grown-up frat boys).
This wasn't the Montauk I visited as a kid. This wasn't the Montauk where a 17-year-old could own Ditch Plains for a few hours, where you could leave your doors unlocked and get fresh lobster from a local lobsterman. "Some one should do something about this!"
My attempt was "The End: Montauk, N.Y." — a photographic ode to the playground of my youth, in which the titular "end" was both a reference to Montauk's nickname and my sad acknowledgement that the times they have a'changed — and they weren't likely to un-a'change.
So now that it's been 12 years since I first tried to reflect upon the 25-year-old memories of a 17-year-old, now that Montauk is even more foreign, why am I still here in the same sand?
Why am I still in Montauk, and why am I re-releasing a new version of "The End: Montauk, N.Y." this summer?
I guess you could say I've gone through all the stages of grief: I moved to Montauk in denial, thinking it was the Montauk of my childhood. With change looming, anger became the impetus of the book, (as did the idea that — maybe — I could bargain away the invading army with idealized images of the paradise they were about to destroy).
What followed that was a 12-year depression.
And now? Acceptance!
Yes, Montauk changed. But wasn't that inevitable, and wasn't that the point of the book? And wasn't the secondary point to illustrate that memory is a sad dance between what may or may not have been, and what, of course, will never be again.
(And that anyone who believes he or she can think objectively about past, present or future is a fool shoveling s——— against the tide)?
I know Montauk has changed, and will change again, but I'm still not ready to write the place off. Memory wouldn't let me. Montauk wouldn't let me.
That said, I get it — I'm not blind to what's happening. At times, I do feel pessimistic about Long Island and, for that matter, the world. Part of me resents every change, internal and external, and recognizes that another part of me created "The End: Montauk, N.Y." because of, and not in spite of, this degradation and resentment.
But I hold to that soulful part that insists on recognizing what's still the same in anything, in lieu of what's been scorched, sold or swallowed. It's not a spirit of ignorance nor optimism, so much as one of reconciliation.
Montauk will never be Montauk again (R.I.P to the East Deck, Salivar's, Johnny's Tackle, et. al), but it will never be anything else either.
There will always be the sea-rinsed air, the unresting waves, the magical light and — above all else — the intangible magic that can keep a young surfer tongue-tied for 25 years.
And that's still what the book represents to me: it's an ode, an omen and a sigh; part reverie, part eulogy. Call it a pessimist's optimistic case for and against fatalism; one man's mad attempt to stick his head back in the sand and pretend the traffic isn't there.