Mid-May is the customary camp opening target date. The usual tasks include emptying out the storage garage of porch furniture and the assortment of watercrafts: a 1950’s motorboat, a Grand canoe, oars and kayaks. The main cabin needs cleaning from the family of mice who live there rent free over the winter. The kerosene heater needs finetuning. The water pump needs priming. One special job this season was the completion of the bookshelves in my recently constructed office cabin overlooking the lake. Over the winter Greg –my regular handyman and fishing buddy –and his partner Jimmy built wall-to-wall bookshelves out of cedar, filling two full walls, floor to ceiling. I had shipped up around 1,000 books from the Florida and East Hampton houses, and my trusty assistant Ali spent a weekend sorting all the books by author and subject matter. Sometimes I refer to this new space as my studio, where I have my office and my watercolor painting supplies and easel. It will also have a fly-tying nook. Once it is all completed, I will have a perfect, separate, place of privacy—100 feet away from the main cabin—where I can work and play without disturbing anyone, or vice versa. I find it is usually the first place I go to in the morning to check my email and the last at night to steal a few moments with a good book.
I have a list of adventures planned for the summer season. There is a new trail guide that Wheaton’s Trust recently published. I intend to take a few outings with my kids and friends to prove I do not always get lost in the woods. I intend to learn to drive my little 30-horsepower Johnson motorboat on my own. It is like a Corvette when it takes off and planes at a 45-degree angle for a bit. I am building up my confidence to deal with that. I want to explore more off-road trails in my four-wheel drive. Last year I took the Bronco out a few times on the path up to Sucker Lake. More of that looks like fun. Sucker Lake – I really love it for its solitude. I am trying to encourage a family member or two to join me and Greg for a campout there one night but no takers. It is always the bathroom thing.
Being in Maine at my camp is always an exciting time for me. Much of my enthusiasm derives from trips as a youngster to Camp Seneca, a sleepaway camp on Seneca Lake in upstate New York. The outdoors has always attracted me despite the black flies. I suppose that is why I enjoy fishing so much. A bit of wilderness on the water, a good lunch and the peace and quiet way from life’s daily bubble.
I had a free pass last week. After the hearings in East Hampton on Friday, I snuck in a day of fishing East Grand Lake at my camp in Maine. I flew up through Baltimore en route to Portland, followed by a three-hour drive to Danforth. I arrived late evening after a stop on the way just outside Bangor for dinner at Dysart’s Truck Stop, where I overdid it on the strawberry pie but no regrets. Up with the sun at 5:30am, coffee in hand, I strolled down to the end of the dock, sat down, and dipped my toes in the water. The sun created dazzling reflections on the water which was a frigid 46 degrees nonetheless; not swimming temperature, but a refreshing morning start. Greg had left his truck at the foot of the driveway, ready for me to take it to Wheaton’s, where I had planned for a day of fishing with my trusted guide, Andy. I was hoping to reel in a topwater salmon using a streamer fly that draws the salmon to the surface. I packed an old down Orvis jacket, my fishing bag, a 5-weight rod and an extra flannel shirt. I would be prepared for any surprises, or so I thought. Andy already had his Grand canoe in the water when I arrived at 9:00 o’clock. With my tucked-in flannel shirt I was dressed for a Maine summer day. I was immediately taken aback by the wind in my face. I rushed to empty out my fishing bag to locate a pair of gloves, and the Bulgin wool beanie cap from my buddy Thom’s last visit, then hurriedly put on my second flannel shirt, all of which lessened the impact of the chilly breezes. Waves are unusual on the lake, but today they were lapping over the sides of the canoe and my coccyx felt every bump. Andy threw a pair of rain pants at me and I tried in vain to pull them on. If I closed my eyes I could have been in Ireland. The wave action was more than I have ever experienced on East Grand Lake. I gazed upward and saw an eagle soaring against the clear blue sky and a few scattered clouds. Despite the conditions on the water, I was aflight myself with the sense of freedom I always have out on the water, when the mind is quieted, and any troubles are left at the shore. It was Andy’s first day out on the canoe this season and he battled the waves a good long time before finding a secluded off-shore area sheltered from the northeast winds.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said, calling over to me, as he pulled the bait out of the container. I watched him set a live smelt on my hook.
“You know I don’t fish with live bait!” I shouted to him over the engine noise.
“It’s salmon you want and its salmon we will catch!” he hollered back.
Early season anglers have the most luck with live bait so live bait it would be. I tossed the line out and peeled away down to my backing. Quietly we moved along the shore. Thirty minutes went by and I felt a few hits but nothing stuck. After each knock Andy checked to see if my bait was still attached and the hook available. The sun was now higher in the sky and beating down on us. I began to remove the layers – the extra flannel shirt, then the gloves. The wool beanie was replaced by my lucky old felt cowboy hat. Seated in the bow of the canoe in the stillness of the cove, I felt a deep sense of contentment. It was one of those unique moments I find most pleasurable while out on the water and only on the water. I held the rod in my right hand and the loose line lightly in my left for any slight tug before I set the hook. My thoughts drifted to old memories, to hopes for the future and to being at peace in my heart. I was “zoned out” when I felt a slight tug on the line. Immediately roused out of the daydream, I sat up from a slouch, my senses alert to the matter at hand: a fish. The best strikes are the ones I don’t anticipate, unlike sight fishing when you observe the fish taking the fly. This strike was totally spontaneous, and I was taken by happy surprise. Andy erupted into total guide mode:
“Take it on the reel!” he commanded. “Don’t lose him! Reel it in!” Then, after realizing I had things under control, he said, more calmly, “Just let it run.”
The dance between the guide and the fisherman when a fish is on the line could be a Broadway production. There is much song and dance until the fish is in the net. And this one was still unseen. Neither of us knew for sure what it was though we suspected salmon. Twenty-five feet of line was out and the 5-weight rod was bending as I reeled in. Andy sat quietly in the stern ready with a net. He slowed the engine down to keep pace with the fish. I was fearful of losing it before I got to see it. As I reeled with my left hand and dug the bottom of the rod into my right side I felt in control. I continued cautiously so as not to break the line. Andy saw the fish before I did, before it dove below the canoe.
“Salmon!” he shouted– a huge smile on his face.
After more steady reeling, the fish finally gave up and surfaced. Andy swooped in with the net. It was his first salmon of the season and he was as proud of it as I was. Dark green with a white belly it measured 30” and weighed four pounds—a happy catch for both of us.
“I will freeze him for lunch next time,” Andy offered.
I usually catch and release but accepted his offer. Reeling in a topwater landlocked salmon is an experience I’ve only ever had in Alaska, Iceland, and Labrador. This was a first at my home lake. Thanks, Andy, for those smelts.
From time to time my classic car magazines feature so-called “barn finds” – recently discovered vintage cars that have been in storage for decades, sitting in barns and garages in the Midwest or other out of the way places—true automotive treasure trove. Hemmings magazine reports on these barn finds when a vehicle of special significance is found and offered for sale. Now I am proud to report on my own barn find right here in Palm Beach. My friend Chris Kellogg recently told me about two old cars he has had in his garage for decades—a 1956 Bentley and a 1966 Mercedes 230 SL. He recently made the decision to sell them and hopefully he will find a deep-pocketed restoration hero. The cars’ history makes this barn find all the more interesting. It begins when Chris’s father, the Honorable Francis Kellogg, served as an Ambassador and Head of the Department of Immigration and Refugees under Nixon, reporting to Henry Kissinger. While on a trip to New York City, he purchased the Bentley from an English couple returning to London. The Bentley had been given to them as a wedding gift. Kellogg brought the car back to D.C. where it logged many miles ferrying visiting dignitaries, including the queen of Thailand.
On a trip to Europe in 1966, Kellogg purchased the Mercedes at the company factory in Stuttgart, Germany. It was intended as a graduation gift for his son, but he loved the car so much he kept it—and since Chris already had a 1600 Alfa Romeo at the time. In 1968 Kellogg returned to New York City and for a period of time the two cars were housed at the United Nations on 34th street. After that they were moved to Kellogg’s farm in Bedford, New York, where, according to Chris, his father took great pleasure in driving the Mercedes through the curves and hills throughout the area. Eventually the cars were relocated to Palm Beach where they remain at the family compound. The Ambassador passed away in 2008, and the cars were left to Chris.
Both vintage autos rest peaceably in Palm Beach, dusty and in need of restoration. Unique in their heritage, both vehicles represent another era of auto history—the Bentley a classic touring car, the 230 Mercedes the early pagoda-style two-seater convertible made famous in the movie “Two for the Road” starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Treasure indeed.
It is the beginning of May 2023 and the busy winter season is ending here in Palm Beach. People are off to myriad locations, mostly north, to the Carolinas, the Hamptons and upstate Maine. A few friends remain here for the summer to enjoy the quiet roads and uncrowded restaurants and beaches. Last night, a few friends gathered to say goodbye. The mood of the evening was convivial and brought to mind similar dinners from the past. In June of 1958, my senior dinner was held in the Benjamin Franklin High School gym in Rochester, New York. It was the final gathering of the graduating class, after all the other end-of-high school events had occurred–the Prom, and our class play. In the following days, we were all gone with the wind–off to various colleges throughout the country, a few to the military, and most, typical of the era, went straight into the workforce at Kodak, Xerox and other New York state companies. After four years of seeing each other almost daily –though many of us had been friends since elementary school– we were off to pursue our own destinies. As for my friends last evening in Palm Beach, God willing we will all see each other again in the Fall when the winter season in Florida recommences. The end of the season 2023 is the farthest thing from the runway takeoff of the summer of 1958. Back then, only a handful of us returned to live upstate where we were born and raised as children of immigrant parents. Over the years, a group of us have enjoyed getting together at my Maine camp every year – Jer, Bobbie, Harvey, Arnie and myself—to reminisce and talk about our school days and our careers and sometimes about our backgrounds, like where our families are from and how they have influenced us. I am particularly interested in my own family history, and I intend to write about it this summer while I am at camp (and do a bit of fishing too of course). I am starting with my father, who at age 12 traveled alone across Europe, then stowed away on a ship to find his brother in America. His life journey was an incredible one, and I was fortunate to be on it with him for a time, as it has ultimately led me to where I am today, surrounded by good friends and family, in the places I want to be. Something about seasons ending makes me especially nostalgic and searching.
It is nearly the end of April and I am deep into my angler magazines. I’ve also been calling on my fishing friends to find out about their upcoming plans and to reminisce about fishing exploits past. I called my buddy of many years, Dr. Jay, to talk about the early spring trips we took together with a gang of friends, now passed, to Pennsylvania – Big Spring Creek, Allegheny, Susquehanna and Penn’s Creek—for Walleye, Small and Large Mouth Bass, Pike, Muskee, Brown Trout and the occasional Rainbows. I’ve also connected, via zoom, with my friend Paul, in Wales, who has filled me in on the fishing conditions at the River Wye, his local spot. My latest issue of the British magazine, The Field, has the line on fishing throughout the UK, where it started April 1st. The Brits have easy access to waterways throughout the countryside with endless fishing locations both private and public. I truly enjoy the fishing experience in the UK, as much for the catching as for the environment and the company. The outdoor spaces are exhilarating, walking through the ancient woods to a hidden fishing spot–it is as much fun as setting the fly. And of course, the fellowship, not only with my buddies but with the guides, who make all the travel worthwhile. Characters they are, who harken back to another era, as some have been fishing the same waters for fifty years.
I have my own fishing nest in Maine, and the daily reports still show ice in places on the lake. There are no reports on the beaver ponds since their locations are secret, known only to me and Greg. I will have to see if Greg has had a chance to check on them. I am traveling north in a couple of weeks for a hearing and am planning a side trip to Bangor and from there to camp for an overnight on East Grand Lake. Wheaton Lodge just opened and Sandy is encouraging me to come. “The small mouth bass are plentiful,” she tells me. Maybe a salmon on top of the water for my visit? I am hungry for my guide Andy’s grilled lake-side barbeque chicken and cowboy coffee. The Woodie Wheaton Land Trust recently closed on a large tract of land on the East Grand Lake and St.Croix headwaters. I am anxious to see it –and of course to go out on the lake with Andy. I look forward to the early morning sun on my face and the quiet of the grand canoe gliding through the water. The eagles soaring overhead. No other fishermen in sight. Andy knows I like to keep more or less to myself and rest the mouth and mind. He is respectful of my need for the tranquility. It is where I recharge my batteries for summer in the Hamptons and everything to come, and for as long as life has for me.
In West Palm Beach, many local families partake in a leisurely Saturday afternoon activity shooting pistols at Gator Guns and Archery Center on Okeechobee Boulevard. My experience at this huge, indoor firing range and gun shop was limited to a visit last year with my friend Chris who introduced me to the place. Chris is something of an expert with his cache of guns, pistols, and hunting rifles. My grandson Billy was here this weekend and considering my need to keep a 12-year-old busy, I asked Chris to introduce Billy to the basics of gun safety and target shooting at Gators. As anyone who reads or watches television knows, the gun control issue is an urgent matter after the many tragedies in Nashville and elsewhere, with semiautomatic weapons behind the worst of the massacres. As a responsible grandfather I believe a youngster from New York City should know more than what he reads and hears about guns in the news, and indeed a trip to Gator’s gun range was an enlightening experience for Billy. First, he saw the massive and exhaustive collection of armaments on display and for sale there, all legal under Florida law. The pistols Chris taught him to handle were small arms typically used by law enforcement. Billy was very surprised to see entire families there—mothers and fathers, grandparents, and young children –all out target shooting with their weapons. According to the rules at Gator’s, if a child is tall enough to see over the table and is accompanied by a parent, they are permitted to shoot in the range. For many of the participants it was not just a leisurely outing but a practice round to keep their skills honed for safe handling and to burnish their hunting skills. Some were there for the fun of target practice. It was clear that from an early age they are held accountable for the proper use of a gun. It is the duty of parents, especially in a gun-friendly state like Florida, to instruct their children about gun safety and when it is appropriate to use such a deadly weapon. Most people at the range on Saturday owned their guns and kept them in their homes. It makes sense that the children learn how and when to use them. There were instructors also working the range helping the newbies to the sport. Others seemed to be professionals, possibly law enforcement. This is Florida—the wild west where the right to carry a concealed weapon is allowed without a permit. It is a law that invites more gun use and gun education I suspect. Billy left Gators clutching his paper target showing near perfect hand-eye coordination. He came away from his time there with a new skill, and he was excited about wanting to go out target shooting again. More importantly, he learned to respect the power of a gun in the hand and why safety and constraints are necessary for their use.
It was a little after 9:30pm last Tuesday evening, the night before Pesach, or Passover. Services at the Orthodox Synagogue in West Palm Beach had ended shortly before. A group of men similarly dressed in long black satin coats with beaver hats covering their kepis (Yiddish for “head”) walked down Worth Avenue to the intersection with South Ocean Boulevard and the beach. One of the men, with his long gray beard, was the elder of the group. Several women walked behind the men. They wore long skirts and headscarves over their wigs, symbols of propriety and of marriage. They were Hasidim–members of a strict, Orthodox branch of Judaism. The men and women gathered in front of the Worth Avenue Clock landmark at the crossroad. A streetlamp cast a warm circular light around them. One of the younger men offered his arm to the elder for support as they made their way across to a line of wooden benches along the beachfront. The women continued walking separately and settled onto benches further down, away from the men. The women conversed in hushed voices as the wind from the northeast blew softly against their unmade-up faces. The elder, seated at a bench among the men, hunched over an open book as he read aloud a prayer, his glasses perched on his nose. The other men stood around him and rocked gently on their heels, listening, their movements evocative of the flickering flame of their faith. The Worth Avenue clock chimed ten times. The men looked up and over to the women. The elder was helped to his feet by the outstretched hand of a young man. Supported on both sides, the elder led the men over to where the women were seated. “Good erav Pesach,” he said. The women returned his greeting. “Nu ihr zi grayt mahr Pesach?” he asked. (Are you ready for Pesach?”) It was a question heard many times that evening. The women nodded and smiled. “Velchen shmurah matzah haht ihr gekoift dem yahr?” (What brand of matzah did you buy this year?”) This started a lively conversation about what would be served at the much-anticipated Passover meal. One young man held out his hand to one of the older women, his bubbeh (grandmother), who reached up and gripped it as she stood from her seat. Then everyone stood and pairing off, chatted as they strolled back across South Ocean Boulevard. The full moon shined overhead coloring the line of Hasidim with a bright, golden glow as the group continued on up Worth Avenue and slowly disappeared past the unlit shop windows in the distance.
Back in 2020, when Carl Butz and I first discussed the name of my future column, Carl immediately suggested “Here Back East.” “You live on the East coast,” he said, “–Florida, Long Island and Maine–so it is accurate and general enough that you can write about anything under that heading.” I was fine with it considering I did not fully grasp at the time how much I would enjoy sitting down each week in front of my old Olympia typewriter to tap out the 200 words or so that ultimately become a Messenger column. So here I am in Palm Beach a day after the historic news of the indictment of a former President – right in my backyard. Well not quite my backyard but a few miles south of it, at Mar-a-Lago, the permanent residence of our former President. After tennis yesterday morning, I hung the lanyard with my press pass around my neck and headed out. (Full disclosure – I am scheduled to be interviewed by the Secret Service for entry to the White House press conferences in the spring.)
The midday sun was high over the ocean as I drove past the historic wooden gates at the entrance of Mar-a-Lago. A few secret servicemen carried serious-looking weapons and stood talking amongst themselves as minimal lunch traffic went in and out of the club grounds. There was no former President greeting his club members that I could see. Unable to stop to query the guards about their morning routine now that the former President was preparing to travel north for his arraignment, I proceeded west over the Southern Bridge where Trump supporters routinely gather to catch a glimpse of him and cheer him in his motorcade on the way to his golf club in West Palm Beach, or perhaps to the airport.
Midway over the bridge a Palm Beach policeman idled on his motorcycle. Below him, partly under the bridge, were a group of a dozen or so supporters waving flags- mostly MAGA– so many flags they seemed to outnumber the people. People were milling about, some seated in beach chairs. The mood at the gathering seemed upbeat and the scene brought to mind the football tailgate parties outside of Shea Stadium in the 1970s. Parked beside the bridge was a smart, white BMW convertible with a mix of American and MAGA flags attached to the rear. Still, it appeared to be a weak turnout compared to the bridge rallies in years past, when the headlines drew out the fans. One such occasion was during the last impeachment trial. There were easily ten times the number of people then, barely contained in the permitted areas around the bridge entrance. The indictment of this former President has not seemed to arouse the same ire of his supporters, if the crowd count was any indication of their sentiment. It might have been the time of day—I was there during lunch hour. As the date for the arraignment grows near, I assume more supporters will be drawn to the Southern Bridge location to cheer on the former president. Or perhaps his supporters are awaiting his commands, as they did prior to the January 6 insurrection— the infamous day in history when the Capitol was stormed by American flag-bearing extremists. Here’s to the American flag, a symbol of our collective values and support of the Constitution. Yesterday on the bridge, the flag was made to appear symbolic of less than all we stand for in America.
Being in the Hamptons in late March—after a stay in Manhattan and a bit of work-related business –briefly reconnects me to the peace and quiet of our home in eastern Long Island. I wake early and take my new-old Mark II Jag out for a morning drive. Only 100 miles from New York City are vast expanses of farmland and ocean vistas, long secured by the Town from developers. The stress of work notwithstanding, the scenery helps me breathe easier–windows down, temperatures in the mid-40s, the sun reflecting off the polished burlwood. I consider how fortunate we are to have settled in East Hampton some 50 years ago. The population has steadily increased perhaps ten-fold over the years and the prices of real estate even more. Winter months have not changed significantly, still quieter than summer. The residential lanes are fully improved now- no more vacant lots– with a few classic shingle style houses, but modern architecture has crept in as new owners demolish and rebuild their houses, many in the oversized “McMansion” style. The route down Montauk Highway is free of traffic going west. I pass the eastbound “trade parade” backed up at the light in Wainscott and find a parking spot in front of Bridgehampton’s Candy Kitchen diner. Inside, the owner Marcello is at the counter bent over his morning coffee, awaiting the breakfast crowds. He sees me and says, “haven’t seen you in a long while” –the usual greeting after I’ve spent several months in Florida. I take the last booth though the restaurant is empty. This is my usual hang-out. I settle in with the New York Times and a large coffee in a paper cup. Absorbed in yesterday’s news, I savor my caffeine fix. I have my solitude here – no office, clients or fellow lawyers to query me about my time away. Afterward, I take the backroads through Sagaponack. The speedbumps intended to slow down the summer traffic are also a warning to me not to test the old Jag’s suspension. The sun glints off the windshield. I try to turn on the old radio but no luck. One more thing to add to my “fix” list. I return home and park the Jag in its garage space. The house is quiet and I start a fire in the library hearth. I ask Alexa to play WQXR and I settle into my cozy chair with the view out on the open field. The deer are not spooked by my return. They feed away, in their usual routine. They know.
It has been almost six months since I last walked the streets of New York City. I am glad to be back to my old routine: early morning New York Times pick-up, visit Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, haircut and shave at York Barber, and then breakfast at Neil’s Coffee Shop. Except Neil’s is gone, evicted for nonpayment of rent. I read about its demise in The New York Post before I left Florida. Apparently, the longtime owner filed for bankruptcy in 2022 and died in early 2023. Now it is in the hands of the landlord. As Yogi Berra said, “In New York nothing changes but everything.”
I found an old interview with the late proprietor, who said ownership of Neil’s was handed over only once, in 1980, from the original owner to him, and he was determined to keep everything as it was, including the same 1951 cash register and 1954 milkshake blender which “still work just fine.” The upholstery was updated and that was it. Neil’s first opened its doors in 1940, one of the many Greek diners that proliferated in mid-century Manhattan, serving coffee to go in the iconic Grecian-themed blue paper cups–a New York artifact once seen everywhere, but now a rarity since the invasion of Starbucks. The original neon sign hung out front on day one was there for the next 83 years. I went myself to confirm and for once The Post got it right. Neil’s was closed, dark and locked. I peered in the window. Chairs upended on tables. A lone can of spray cleaner on the counter.
I had been going to Neil’s since 1964, when I moved into the city from New Jersey after law school. It was my go-to diner after I got married and we bought an apartment on 71st Street. Our girls were small when we moved again to 68th Street—also an easy walking distance to Neil’s. We had countless family breakfasts and father-daughter lunches in those old booths, until we moved out of the city in 1972. I returned to Neil’s periodically over the years since then, while visiting my grandchildren who live on the upper east side. We meet at the Carlyle hotel, where I stay when I’m in town, only a few blocks from our favorite coffee shop. They enjoyed it I like to think because they could see how much it meant to me to take them there. That and the ice cream sundaes.
Rough around the edges, I don’t think Neil’s had an indoor paint job in the 50-plus years I went there. The tables and booths were squeezed into space that should accommodate half the number. The fire code inspector must have been a regular and looked the other way. Visiting the men’s room in the basement was like going down into the subway. But the food was consistent –the oversized omelets and home fries were reliable breakfast comfort food. Nothing like a toasted bagel and cream cheese from Neil’s. Oh, how I miss those early morning wake up meals.
There are other changes in the neighborhood. The CVS on the corner of Third Avenue and 68th Street has shut its doors. As I write this I see the windows at The Food Emporium across the street are filled with closing signs instead of the usual grocery store displays. Things feel diminished. Except for the New York Hospital workforce crowds coming up from the subway at 68th and Lexington, the pedestrian traffic seems to have abated. It seems like there are even fewer dogs on the sidewalks. Perhaps it is the weather. It has been colder and people are staying indoors. Could it be spring break time for schools, so everyone is away? Restaurants seem quieter too. Something is happening here in New York City. People are leaving it. Now that office attendance is not mandated, there has been a migration to more affordable places to work remotely. I work in my own office in East Hampton no more than six months out of the year. With Zoom and before that Skype, I connect remotely with my office and have been doing so for 15 years. I met a young woman recently while playing tennis who works for Goldman Sachs. She relocated from New York to work in West Palm Beach. “A better environment,” she said. “More outdoor time and less expensive.” Yes, New York may be shrinking a bit.
I found one busy place on my walk around the neighborhood: the local library on 68th street. Drawn in by the comfortable seating and a change of scene from an apartment–as well as the fact that it is “free” –people are flocking to libraries, sanctuaries of calm and quiet, no matter what might be going on outside. I belong to one on 79th Street where I hang out and work when I am in town. The Starbucks across the street is also lively. New York may be slightly less populous, but it will never be totally abandoned. As time passes however, with the loss of places like Neil’s, there may not be enough to keep some of us here in place or coming back.