On the Clintons' House-Hunting Trail

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:18

    "Hi, ma'am!"

    But the matron just bugs her eyes at me.

    Stay in the city and away from the suburbs long enough, and you forget how suburban space transmutes itself into sound during rainstorms, so that when you hear the white-noise shusssh of car wheels over wet blacktop at a distance, you're really hearing the respiring of depopulated lots, the sighing of empty parking fields, the relief of roads scoured clean by falling water. Or else the rain drifts with barely any sound at all into empty paved places, or washes into wooded buffers?those patches of scraggly forest that grow out of the ochre mud undergirding Westchester County.

    Right now, though, I'm just parked in my Grand Am renter outside of a house in the hilly Edgemont neighborhood hard by Scarsdale, with the motor running and wipers sweeping away raindrops that smell of grass, pulling a weird stakeout outside of what as far as I'm concerned might as well be the House of Usher: 74 Ardsley Rd., which, before the Clintons purchased a house in Chappaqua last week, was their apparent favorite among the dwellings they'd examined on their well-publicized Westchester househunting jaunt. Hillary Clinton and her mother reportedly spent an hour and 20 minutes examining this white clapboard manse on a hill high above Scarsdale's remarkably charmless Tudor-style downtown. And it's surreal here on this chilly day at the butt end of this politically inconclusive summer. You'd be forgiven, after all, for expecting some indication that you're in the presence of significant real estate. A plaque at least?a bronze sheet testifying to last week's visitation by St. Hillary, patroness of the hard, damaged matrons of suburbia. But instead there's just wet trees and an apparently empty house atop a pimple of land renowned by Volvo-driving mothers for the difficulties of the narrow, serpentine road?Suicide Hill?that crosses it.

    Anyway, on to the detective business. I leave the Grand Am running; skulk outside the house's windows, cadging views into the interior. Slippity-slide?a sneakered two-step across the blacktopped cul-de-sac until I'm crouching behind rhododendrons that flank each side of the front porch. Amateur anthropology, motivated by fear and disgust: I'm looking for clues. What sort of house appeals to the Clintons? Inside there's a dining room, I think?high ceilings hoard gloom. A parson's table, I guess, anchors the room's far side, and bears, it seems, a decorative glass cylinder?a vase. The arced back of a white wooden chair jams against another window. A breakfast nook?

    But here it's impossible to penetrate the gloom. The chair absorbs all the light and all my attention, like a foregrounded motif in a painting. What would the Clintons do with a breakfast nook? Do such people eat breakfast together? Bill huffing eggs; the aging woman's eyeballs straining from the humiliation of her husband's presence.

    How shameful, though: to slink around someone's property like the 14-year-old I used to be up in these suburban precincts, back when I'd look for cracked windows into which to lob sheets of firecrackers or bad eggs. I return to the car to drip, and to think it over and let wash over me the hopelessness of being tied to your car somewhere in the rain when all you want is to be at home.

    Which is when the front door drifts open.

    "Hi, ma'am!"

    Silence. A woman?someone's mother?in handsome middle age confronted me, and peered from her porch at me through the rainy limelight. She wore morally serious eyeglasses and a chaste skirt.

    "Hi ma'am. I work for a newspaper."

    Her pursed, pissed-off mouth.

    I planned my escape. It hadn't rained all summer, but it was raining now, and it was hard not to consider it all another stroke of Clinton's luck. Clinton as literal Rainmaker, the White House will be claiming next; Divining-Rod Bill, redeemer of the region's dry summer and of yellow and drought-stricken Hartsdale lawns. It could be a publicity coup, as usual. I'm surprised the Clintons didn't take credit for it. Imagine the graying oaf gloating as?coked up out of his skull?he taps his foot in the chauffeured car on the swing back to Edgemont from the city, nursing his skinned knuckles after brutalizing West Side whores, tossing them crumpled 20s for their trouble as the Secret Service cleared the meatpacking district streets. Clinton's beyond almost everything you can conceive; he's the president in the great William S. Burroughs routine, flipping off America: Fuck you. Every crumb for himself. Then arrive the inevitable last three words?which could stand as the motto of these Clinton years: I got mine. And sticking his finger in your face.

    ("Mah daughter home?" Bill asks the chauffeur from the back of the car. Rubbing the red from his eyes; Visine and a pillbox full o' ludes in the car cabinet. A maudlin, pious son of a bitch, this Clinton, trying to resist his gutter-Baptist compunctions, trying to sober up fast.)

    "I work for a newspaper," I was telling the woman.


    "And, um... I write about the Clintons."

    Rain dripping from the trees and the shooosh of distant cars as I turn into a puddle: "And that of course...um...brought me here..."

    Her colorless skirt.

    "Ah. Yes. Well, I'm just leaving."


    "Well. Very sorry to have bothered you, ma'am."

    Ah, yes, good day, good day. I threw the Grand Am into drive and inched out along the manse's access road between the tight granite walls. They were taller than I was; they shut out the light. A paranoid access road.

    Then I roared down Ardsley Rd. and pulled into a cul-de-sac to idle the car and drink iced tea from a shopping-strip gas stop, and rest. Homeowners peered out at me from behind window blinds, wondering whether I was trouble or just some loser in a car. Park in front of a house in Westchester and you've got about an 11-minute margin until someone calls the cops.

    Thus this anxious sliver of central Westchester in the rain, plumped up with the rich carbohydrates of the Clinton-era expansion, and peering out at motorists through blinds. If these good centrists believed in guns, they'd have shot me. No wonder the Clintons want to live here. They'd fit right in.

    Get away from my house, son. Or rather: Officer, get that son of a bitch away from my property. Another reminder of my childhood: the Episcopalian tosspint of an attorney who lived next door to us, who pummeled his wife until you couldn't tell what his fists had busted up and what the alcohol had done, especially around the eyes where the blood vessels are, and who trained his learning-disabled adolescent son to guard the property line. Thus myself as a tot, wading into battles with his territorial older brat. Which is to say: People up here know what's theirs.

    That child turned into a landscaper or a bartender or something. His older brother came out queer and finally died. His other older brother inherited the old man's practice and eventually got himself disbarred. I've got a hundred stories like that, and someday I'll use them all. Every crumb for himself.

    The first thing you have to know if you want to understand something about why the Clintons are dead-set on moving to my native Westchester is that there's more than one Westchester, just as there's more than one New Jersey or Long Island, for all of the insulting myths that attend those places. For simplicity's sake, let's posit that there are at least two Westchesters.

    Look at a map of the region. It's a funnel propped up over Manhattan, except that the funnel's logic is inverted, so that the filth that clogs it flows upward?from the straitened end northward into the wider one. Nothing's surprising about that. In America, the filth flows out of cities, obliterating and destroying landscapes.

    But look at the map again, notice that Westchester's bordered by the Long Island Sound on the east and by the Hudson River on the west and pay attention to those borders. Growing up in a Hudson River town about 40 minutes north of the city limits, it was easy for me to forget that I lived in some despised locality known as "the suburbs." The grip of history?of the muddy old Dutch river?in those old river towns is too secure. If you've ever been downtown in places like Yonkers or Sleepy Hollow or Peekskill, or even in less raw municipalities like Dobbs Ferry or Hastings-on-Hudson, then I defy you to reduce them to the status of suburbs?although, technically, I guess they are. These amber and green and red-brick places snuggle at the feet of the homely hills that squat along the Hudson's eastern shore. Narrow main thoroughfares built not for car traffic, but for the horsewagons of working-class Colonial-era folk with stolid Dutch names like Depeyster and Schuyler, tumble downhill toward the water like ski-jump ramps, so fast and steep that if you're at the top of Main St. in a village like Irvington-on-Hudson?a village that, not atypically for the type of village it is, hasn't visibly changed since it was still called Wolfert's Roost back when New York City still clustered in Manhattan's southern end and the area currently serviced by the Spuyten Duyvil Metro North remained to the Indians an enchanted confluence of pure Harlem and Hudson River waters...

    Well, again, if you stand at the top of Main St. in a village like Irvington, you experience the frightening, wonderful sensation in your gut that you do on a ski run. You're staring as if from a precipice down into the muddy Hudson; into a river that they haven't yet managed to poison, landfill, drain or otherwise adulterate out of existence. (Though God knows they've done their best to, and though logic and experience compel you to believe that someone, somewhere, in Washington or Manhattan or wherever the futures of rivers get adjudicated, is trying to figure out how to do so even now.) Hudson River villages, at their cores, can't be assimilated to contemporary conceptions of space, are irreconcilable to the suburban logic of sprawl. Gloomy brick three-story buildings crafted during the Grant administration huddle over narrow sidewalks on small streets?they challenge the petty little fascisms of the developers and the city planners who have overrun other parts of Westchester. Maybe it's just me, but I swear there's a ghostliness to these anachronistic towns. (The ghostliness?which is another term for historical rootedness?that characterizes these places is captured beautifully in T. Corraghessan Boyle's novel World's End, which centers around Peekskill, the slum town named after a Dutchman named Peek. And that spawned George Pataki, whose environmentalism, however tepid and Republican, is the best thing about him, and whom I could see spending an hour with someday, discussing the magic that inheres in steep, abandoned Main Streets sleeping against the river on severe October days. Boyle's hippie main character is literally dogged by old-time phantoms.)

    It's not as if these downtowns are going places. Maybe it's a good thing: These villages are immune to this economy's gifts. In the town I grew up in, and in others that neighbor it along the river's eastern shore, business has been bad for as long as I can remember, and it still is. Empty storefronts remain empty for years; then fill up for a couple of months with the activity of a couple Aquarians who hang up an "Antique Shop" shingle and sell the crap out of their garages for a while before leaving the store empty again. (Antique shops are to the river towns what lounges will be to the East Village: they're always there, they're always the same and they never last.) And Truman-era barbershops staffed by townies and smelling of disinfectants straggle on through the decades.

    At their core?and maybe this is a function of my own experience, of what I chose to notice, but that's the point?they're working-class places, not bedroom communities full of city commuters. My childhood was defined by townies who'd been in the village for decades: by the sons of local politicians who eventually and inevitably transmogrified into local cops, by high school football heroes who popped amphetamines before big games and are now lapsing into flabby middle-age in bungalows not far from their parents' finer houses, which are holdovers from a more expansive era. (I narrowly avoided becoming a townie myself: selling real estate, maybe, out of an office above a hardware store, commuting to work every day in an '88 Civic.) Growing up, sailing the Hudson along the Tappan Zee and in Haverstraw Bay and swimming in the river's waters?before they screwed that up and we children were instructed to stay as far away as possible from the water they'd made filthy, polluted, evil, corrosive and pernicious?there was the sense that safety existed along the riverbank, a nice continuity you could count on. I still feel that way about the river towns. Whatever there was of corruption existed outside the womb, on the far side of the hills Washington Irving wrote about, and that he and nameless others invested with ghosts, phantoms, goblins?a mythology and a folklore that persists today. I never felt that I grew up in a suburb, with all of that word's sterile connotations.

    And I imagine if you grew up in one of the Westchester cities that rims the Long Island Sound, on the far other side of the county?grim, decaying old homey industrial places like New Rochelle, the downtowns of which no boom economy has been able to liberate from their sooty pasts?you'd feel the same way, though your point of reference would be a different body of water.

    Then there's central Westchester, where right now I'm cleaving to my rental car like a homesteader cleaved to his prairie schooner. Central Westchester?consult your maps again?is a Clinton place, devoid of mythologies, organized around nothing. You could pluck it up and put it smack down in the middle of any number of other regions in the country, and no one would notice. Of course the Clintons came here. Of course they want to live squarely in these parts. It's appropriate: They pine for this region's middleness, for its weird, sprawling distances intersected by elevated highways and scabbed by strip-job malls of the sort that cluster along Central Park Ave., the commercial strip that represents Edgemont's eastern boundary, and that's thick with pancake houses at which Clinton could locate his share of fat girls. This is the perfect Clintonite geography: void of points of reference, and reminiscent of what you'd imagine Los Angeles to be if you were dead-set on hating Los Angeles and had never been there and didn't know about its energy. The Clintons' Westchester exists without apology between the Sound and the Hudson?between two poles of meaning. Even the rising and falling of the land in this hilly region's been flattened to the eye by the unmoderated overlay of interchanges and overpasses. You could live a lifetime here and not even notice that the place possesses a natural geography.

    Scarsdale?of which the Clintons' favored Edgemont is actually a less exclusive neighbor?is one of the world's most famous suburbs and a perfect bedroom community, a community defined by corporate transients from Germany and, more recently, from Japan. It's a carpetbaggers' community into and out of which people are shuttled by the economy's expediencies. There's metaphorical import in the fact that the Clintons haven't evinced interest in living in Ossining or Beacon or Ardsley-on-Hudson, where you can occasionally look at the water and feel humble about yourself.

    All that said, I'm still from Westchester, and I still feel territorial enough about the place as a whole to resent the Clintons' intrusion. This urge of mine to bear witness; to testify with my own eyes to the phenomenon of Clintonism, the phenomenon that's been the defining political development of my time?it's not really hard to explain. The Clintons are my Watergate, my Chicago '68. If the Clintons can triumph?murdering, robbing, lying, raping, slaughtering, executing, extorting, betraying, threatening?then all bets are off and, in your weaker moments, you wonder if the experiment isn't just about finished, whether we shouldn't just pack up, cash in our considerable chips and emigrate back to live shoddy but comparatively honest lives stealing chickens in our ancestral villages from our poxy and chortling relatives. What's happening now is the culmination of all my paranoid fantasies, ever since, as a college student during the '92 election, the Clintons' degenerate mugs appeared on my tv screen, stimulating a nausea that superseded even my considerable contempt for George Bush?that CIA man with his compulsion to pardon everybody who could incriminate him?and birthing within me the knowledge that eventually they'd come to me, to where I lived.

    Now they have come. Not that the situation isn't occasionally funny. Grotesque chunks of comic relief impose themselves upon me, like those offered by an Aug. 17 Boston Globe article by Eun Lee Koh entitled "Clinton home search sits well with donors" and subheaded "Legal contributors aren't criticizing a look for chic digs." Get a load of the contemporary American attitude toward power, as encapsulated in the comment of a gentleman from Massachusetts whom Koh interviews: "'I don't expect a former president to live in a one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx,' said Kelvin Reed, an elementary school teacher from Brighton who gave $10 to the [Clinton Legal Defense] fund. 'The president of the United States has a certain amount of respect due to him.'"

    Oh he does, does he? Koh also quotes a certain nurse named Helen Ahearn: "They have so much other things to pay, like Chelsea's college education... I sure hope they can afford a house that expensive."

    We all do, Helen! God forbid the girl assumes loans like everyone else, or instead attends the University of Arkansas.

    Or this, from a homemaker named Catherine Derivan, who donated $5 to the Clinton legal defense fund this year, and who expressed hope that the Clintons "don't go broke," but who consoled herself by speaking as follows, according to Koh: "But then again, if Hillary loses the Senate race, she can probably sell back the house at a much higher price, so it'll work out OK for her."

    But this idea that Westchester represents the classy, gracious opposite polarity to the nasty urban Bronx is a specious one promulgated by media people whose vocabularies rely inordinately upon words like "posh" and "deluxe," and who ought to know better. "Westchester, the largely wealthy New York suburb," The Washington Post's Lynne Duke wrote two Sunday's ago, that adverb of hers obscuring an entire, more economically complex and articulated, world.

    Wealthy? There's certainly a lot of wealth in Westchester. But it's not a monolithically wealthy place. From Edgemont, for example, you shoot your renter down the Bronx River Pkwy. and you're lost within minutes, trying to make time against this rain-swept day and you're...where? Off a bad exit in a low-density slum somewhere maybe around Mt. Vernon, where puny gangsters hang on corners near payphones. K-turn and veer the wrong way down a one-way street. Old men gape out at you from old sedans. And a woman's panicked maw jaws You! You! You! from behind auto glass. Crack vials bob like little paper boats in the gutters.

    I pulled over and dragged out my map. Where is New Rochelle? It was where another Clinton house was located, at any rate. The point on this afternoon was to see them all, see if I could learn anything from them. I stormed north on the Bronx River now, spraying sheets of water through the jaundiced half-light of south-central Westchester's roadside slums. Yonkers' western flanks are a shabby taste of the tough Mt. Vernon that's to come if you keep driving. And around here, you always keep driving. Joined the traffic that sought the Cross Westchester like a confusion of tired crows homing in on something half-understood; took that road over endless low-density slum landscape glowing green and yellow under horizontal beams of sunlight busting through clouds. Lumber yards and concertina wire enclosed space; strip boulevards flanked well-policed hamlets. I gunned the transmission until I was scared I'd plane, and end up upside down in the drainage gully, listening to K-Rock while my wheels spun forever after in the rain above me?and who out here would even bother stopping to help?

    So where is this exclusively white, wealthy Westchester the media's evoking? Oh, it exists. But it mostly does so in Westchester's horsey northern extremes?places like Bedford, near the Connecticut border. But the Clintons weren't househunting up there, not for the most part. Moving to super-exclusive, still-Republican Bedford would be politically damaging for swinger politicians like the Clintons, who enjoy the music of Fleetwood Mac. Rather, they were looking in central Westchester. Which is this: a mosaic of decaying commercial and minority ghettos interspersed with extremely moneyed enclaves populated by "hip" boomer parents and permed ad-industry soldiers with Volvos and boutique-liberal politics to accompany their boutique weed?and patrolled by big, mean cops. You're a million miles here from John Cheever's gin-soaked, repressed suburbia; a billion miles from old-money Bedford. People in central Westchester are assimilated to, affectionate for, their crowded New Capitalist junkscape, the sort of place Clintonites worship as holy manifestations of economic "growth." They have the money to live anywhere. They choose to live here, and to escape in their SUVs every summer to the un-stripped Martha's Vineyards of the world, where part of being on vacation means that you can actually walk places, actually experience the thrill of feeling loamy, sandy geography under your feet.

    And where?on Martha's Vineyard, I mean?Hillary Clinton materialized, two weeks ago, rubbing up during her mercenary little vacation against donors for a Senate campaign she was running in another state. A stunning exhibition?but it won't hurt her chances with Edgemont and New Rochelle's matrons. On the contrary: those SUV matrons will love that stuff. The spectacle of Hillary with her flared nostrils and pastel Talbot's rigs clawing her aggressive way through Martha's Vineyard in a frothing status-frenzy is one with which they can empathize: It's just a more destructive version of the SUV driver's hustle to secure Black Dog t-shirts for adolescent Skyler, Dylan and Brittany. There's an affinity there that translates not only into votes, but also into devotion.

    Meanwhile, in the decaying SROs in wretched places like White Plains and South Yonkers, Dominicans and white trash and blacks rob and clobber each other in the name of that other New Capitalist apodictum: diversity. Clinton's FALN stunt isn't going to hurt his wife's Senate chances as far as the suburbanites we're talking about are concerned. To believe that it will is to repeat the current media mistake that reduces Westchester to a Rockefeller Republican bastion of white fences and Episcopalian linen, where goofy men of easily satirized rectitude are scandalized by the apotheosis in their suburban promised land of blacks, Asians and Hispanics; and, in Washington, of our hipster Chief Executive. Cheap-labor aficionados, so-called "multiculturalists," so-called "leftists" and other apologists for the corporate status quo, by the way, will be reassured to hear that Westchester's starting to "look like America," to paraphrase their hero Bill Clinton: The Hispanic population doubled between 1980 and 1990. So, for that matter, did the Japanese population. Well-off Japanese even built their children a Japanese school in Scarsdale, thus ensuring that they could skim the cream off the economy without their children being cheapened so much by American influences.

    The old money is certainly part of Westchester's identity. But places like Edgemont and Hartsdale and New Rochelle are acceptable suburbs, to which city sophisticates can feel comfortable about moving, bringing their cosmopolitan politics and marijuana with them from the Upper West Side. These people won't be offended by the FALN gambit. Rather, they'll eat it right up. As long, that is, as the borders stay well-patrolled.

    Then I was on Quaker Ridge Rd., somehow. Then coasting down a wet tertiary road through old farmland that wasn't farmland anymore, wasn't anything but a valley of dirt awaiting the backhoe. ("Belle Fair at Rye Brook," roadside signs yelled at me at one point when I was very lost among corporate parks. "The New Traditional Hometown.") Then, balancing the map on my knees, with Kid Rock thumping from the radio, turning hard right into something called Overhill Rd., a raw strip that wound along a hillside. Steep to my right uphill; steep to my left down. The rain milled in the huge yellow holes dug for new foundations. Red puddles of diluted mud washed across the street; it felt like the L.A. hills during some sudden tempest. So much is getting built in Westchester these days. We're the luckiest people in the world.

    They're certainly lucky in Thomas Paine Heights in New Rochelle, where non-indigenous subtropical flora all tufted and fuzzy and straight out of Dr. Seuss decorate the lawns of oversized homes. A neighborhood full of attorneys and dermatologists who get buggy and aggressive behind the wheels of their tractor-mowers.

    It was in this neighborhood that the Clintons received their warmest welcome, with a throng of neighbors gathering in the street to hail with robust applause the Commander-in-Chief.

    Consulting my maps, I located the Clinton's house: a pink mansion set behind garish weeping willows. A fairytale bridge arced over an artificial pond. Of course. Of course. The pink irradiated through the shortening day. I drove out of the neighborhood, wetter than usual but only marginally more paranoid; pulled over on a connecting road the name of which I've forgotten, and climbed out into the rain to piss in what I think was the Bronx River, half hoping I'd get arrested, so that I could call it a day already.

    Pound Ridge was the last one. I'd been told the Clintons had rooted their snouts around a potential home in Mamaroneck, on Old White Plains Rd. near the entrance to Winged Foot Golf Club, but I'd been unable to find it. The real estate there tends to be set off in the woods. The house they'd inspected in Rye Brook was just a several-minutes drive from the stunning postmodern General Foods Headquarters building, a white UFO of a structure that rises like Valhalla out of artificial lakes in Harrison or New Rochelle, or whatever municipality it is there, to lord it over the ramshackle surrounding neighborhoods. Eerie low-density suburbia gets fevered as Saturday afternoon edges toward evening. Laundromats cough out skinny young mothers and old women close up filthy delis housed in freestanding cinderblock boxes. You park your car in an empty lot; wander over to some de-stocked deli to buy a sandwich from an Okie and his wife and then eat the thing in the lee of a building, away from the rain. You half expect to see Mexicans in straw hats loitering around these places with hungry eyes, looking to scrounge up piecework.

    By the time I reached Pound Ridge night was falling. It was cold that night, and I suffered from the despairing feeling that always comes when you've been lost all day, when your only point of stability is your car and dark air's coming down and you roll up your windows to keep out the chill and the dashboard glow's a comfort but you're still far from home. Pound Ridge: an aberration on the Clinton's list, because it's semirural northern Westchester horse country, a place full of orthopedic surgeons and old money?and so far free of the movie stars who these days are infiltrating Bedford and other elegant exurban towns. What Bill Clinton, with his gold dookie ropes, and gold gangster teeth and flashy drug-dealer beeper as big as your house would do for kicks in this demure place?well, it escapes me.

    I spent half an hour lost on back roads and dirt roads in the twilight, peering for the address I'd scrawled on a scrap?people here hide their properties, the houses huddle unto themselves amidst the darkness of the woods. Strolling Lands' End lesbians on evening constitutionals shot me suspicious looks as I rolled past them, peering down long, dark, dirt-and-gravel driveways, looking for the house. Rattling through pitted mud, bottoming out the chassis.

    I found the huge house, finally?it was outfitted with skylights and track beams, a heap of architectural pastiche. But by then no mysteries were being revealed anymore and it was just me in the middle of nowhere, irrationally anxious and wanting home. Parked the car on the road overlooking the house's front acres, where well-dressed young people were unloading expensive cars, load after load, as if they'd just been away at camp. The rain was gone by now, but the air and sky were still a lurid green-gray, and it was too late to bother going back to the city. What could I learn here?

    They got me, the crafty swine! Always one step ahead, these Clintons; perennially capable of just a little bit more. It happened last week: $350,000 down on a $1.7 million, five-bedroom Dutch Colonial pile in elegant, leafy Chappaqua, staid Republican home of the Reader's Digest corporation. I'd never imagined Bill Clinton would allow his woman to drag him into Chappaqua. Not in a million years. Where's he going to wear his fur coat out to? His zoot suit? Where'll he find a good corner to pimp? The Clintons' loan was secured by Terry McAuliffe, Bill's spectacularly corrupt chief fundraiser. Already there's talk of erecting a gate at the mouth of the Clintons' new street.

    But that night the last stretch of driving was on 684, which is northern Westchester's Autobahn, a straight shot with no police and everyone's motor's burning hard at one million degrees?at warp speed. Campaign news spilled out of the radio. It sounded like eating dirt feels. And finally I tooled over the hills and into the village I grew up in. I detoured down to the river bank, to where, in the shadow of the little marina, we as teenagers slept and drank on the beach after shooting rockets out over the water, and the barges that would signal-flash us back?some sort of crazy, nice communication over miles of water. There's a fence there now, and has been for years; beach access has become, as it inevitably had to become, a crime. I climbed out into the mist and rattled that fence with my hands, as if to be aware of its reality, wallowing in the cold pleasure of acclimating yourself to the worst. Glorious: and someday soon, perhaps, someone will rattle the new gate that will close the previously public Chappaqua thoroughfare of Old House Lane, demanding answers to the question of exactly who the opaque, violent, secretive people who live at its far end are, and when they're going to first explain themselves, and then go away and leave everybody alone in peace.

    I looked through the fence a while. Nice river, if you've got access to it. Finally I drove up along the village's shuttered Main St. and through the sleeping hills to my parents' house.

    I'll tell you this, though: The Clinton years have been good to my family, which was academic and dirt-poor during my childhood, but that's doing well enough now, the bunch of us having smartened up and learned to surf the culture's momentum a little bit. Six and a half lucky years. The old house, in which the floors are polished to a wonderful sheen, radiates more peace than it ever has: the peace of my parents as they settle into middle age.

    Everyone was asleep. I played in the darkened kitchen like the proverbial dormouse; mixed rum and lime juice and sugar in a shaker, then poured the green stuff into a tumbler and drank at the kitchen counter, letting the somnolent clicking of a far-off mantel clock stroke my downshutting brain. Opened the back door and sat on the wooden back porch with my booze and the breeze, catching glimpses of red flasher buoys on the river channel far below and through the ancient maples lofting up and drooping down over Rte. 9. You could almost see the grape vines that wreath the trellises growing in the stillness after the rain; almost see our garage-side garden fattening, the tomatoes red and good-natured in the night that seemed to glow dark blue, as with some weird post-deluge luminescence, the same electric deep blue color as the St. Elmo's fire that plays around masts after storms and reassures sailors.

    Fat times, and who's complaining? The sound of midnight sprinklers and the smell of rain and damp air playing cool around the back of your neck. So to hell with it all. I've got mine.