Hammerklavier in the Hamptons?

Is it better to know what you want, or not?  Do you want to see them (your desires) from afar, or do you want them to sneak up behind you like villains in a horror flick?  … they’d creep and approach on silent feet, grab you, wrap a vise arm around your neck … you’re a goner … but at that last moment (hopefully) they’d decide to shower you with bliss instead of slitting your throat.

I was on the plane, in a practical mood.  I couldn’t look my desires in the face, so I wrote them down in a notebook.  First, I wrote:


… all in caps, like that … and then, neatly, with a strange smugness, double-spacing, I wrote little 1)’s and 2)’s and 3)’s, figuring I had at least three desires, and I could add more if I desired.  (#4 is the desire to have more desires.  #5 is the desire to have less.)  Then next to these well-spread numbers I wrote down a bunch of things; they seemed reasonable, even a bit iconic; this was all too easy.  I put the pen down, firmly, with a deluded air of organization and completion, like a Martha Stewart of the soul, and glared for many minutes at the seat back’s encased television in map mode, telling me where I was, how many feet in the air, etc. etc.  My eyes focused on Montana, the current probable residence of an ex.  Desires unaccounted for.  I thought about adding something to the list, but …

That’s that, I thought.  It’s settled, it’s on paper.

Just the day before I had been sitting at a beautiful rectangular pool, looking down its bluish length in the company of many others in bathing suits, stretching their lengths out for the sun’s perusal.  A hot Hamptons day was slowly heading for its apex.

Let me explain, from my beach chair, that I had awoken with difficulty.  Whatever I had eaten for dinner had made complex demands.  (We had signed no preprandial agreement.)  No, no! my subsconscious protested all night, I cannot deal with that, I have things to do, more important things, but my dinner said well, we’ll see about that, and now I will take the form of the opening cadenza of the “Emperor” Concerto and torment you until you submit haha!  My subconscious is not as submissive as I would like it to be.  Sure enough, it ended up as full-out war, with poor me like a refugee caught up in the senseless violence, and as the battle reached its fever pitch, I was dreaming at 4 am of standing onstage during an “Emperor” concerto performance, eating Pho.  (The Pho was delicious.)  I believe I was also supposed to prepare some Pho on a small hotplate while playing the concerto.

Blear.  Fog.  Parched mouth.  9 am.   I stumbled around my room in half-light and tripped over every piece of clothing that I owned (since these were conveniently sprinkled around the carpet like floppy sculptures in a sculpture park) and made my way to the bathroom and nearly died in there due to various dangerous fixtures and whatnot and towels and other menacing creatures like leaky toothpaste tubes, and, so you see, it was nearly miraculous that I got up the stairs to the dining area of the house.  There I saw something I could not fathom or believe.

12 people, mostly in white, sat around the breakfast table.   Their hairstyles bespoke no haste; not a strand seemed even to waver in the breeze wafting in through the screen door from the huddled and massed hydrangeas, dotting the green unflawed lawn.

“Good morning!” one of them said.  “We just got back from a bike ride.”

“It’s a beautiful morning out there!” another offered.

I looked in vain for sweat or strain.  I tried not to look bitter.  A young man, meanwhile, offered me cinnamon toast.  I took it, hoping for no further information exchanges.

After some minutes of this, listening to the musical crunch of lowfat cereals in the many mouths around me, I felt I needed to retreat to the pool.  I filled two cups of coffee (I contemplated stealing the whole carafe) and excused myself.

Indeed: the pool was a solitary spot for some time and I was able to pull myself together, more or less.  I dispelled Pho phantoms.  But then others felt the pool urge and came to join me.  I chatted about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with two fellows, who were hairstylists and quite nice, but clearly had quite a bit of stress about picking up their dogs from various spots along the Long Island coastline.  Eventually they had to leave and gather a spaniel in Easthampton, a labradoodle in Great Neck.   And so I found myself in the remaining company:  5 people between the ages of 16 and 21.  They were discussing Harry Potter.

“Do Ron and Hermione end up together?” one girl of 17 asked.

L, the eldest, answered.  She is 21 and indisputably, amazingly beautiful. She stood statuesque, tan, in her bikini, dripping, half in the pool, half out.

“No,” she said simply. “Hermione’s too pretty for Ron.”

L’s boyfriend, sitting not far away on the edge of the pool, looked a bit sour.   Around us invisible mansions nestled in their landscaped swaths of green.

“Does Harry find other girlfriends?” another asked, eagerly …

That’s it, I thought, I’m outta here.  I fled back into the house, and found myself almost running past the bustling dining table towards the piano, smiling but not stopping.  The table was surrounded by amiable people reading the papers, mostly the business sections… I leapt into my business … Bach.  This felt good, but not quite good enough.  Too ordered, too polite.  Hmm, I wondered, Jeremy, do you still remember the “Hammerklavier” fugue?  And so there I went for it, with full fever and fervor, looking out the window with something like antipathy at the perfect day, the perfect setting, the pond glistening in the distance, the blue marsh flowers, and it was certainly a crazy version of the fugue.   I went totally nuts.  I felt I had to fight my surroundings in some way.   The house’s open design meant the sound carried everywhere, and it certainly reverberated fantastically in the enormous foyer, where the piano was, up the stairs and around the skylight …  Beethoven was my ally against cleanliness, even, perhaps, against certain flavors of happiness; he growled and whirled and flew.   I got to the end, played the last B-flat major chord, removed it slightly abruptly, and waited, delighted, enlivened, frenzied, quivering.

The house was eerily quiet.

I padded back over to the dining table.  There was no one.  Nothing.  The house was completely empty.  The Wall Street Journal sat lonely upon the table, in pieces.  I had driven them all away.

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  1. Posted August 10, 2007 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Okay, for some reason, this post reminded me of The Swimmer by John Cheever. It’s probably the images of affluence and the pool that did it.

  2. Posted August 12, 2007 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    i’m trying to imagine you in such an environment. i suppose it really isn’t my place to pass any judgment, seeing as i don’t know you personally, but somehow it doesn’t work in my mind, and i believe your post supports my findings. what on earth where you doing in the hamptons?


  3. Posted August 12, 2007 at 3:43 am | Permalink

    i see, after reviewing joshua bell’s schedule, that joshua and yourself will be performing in berkeley in february … seeing as i go to school about 30-45 minutes south of berkeley (on the peninsula, just south of sf), i may have to acquire tickets to this concert so i can see you perform again … it’s been a year and a half since you performed in davis at the mondavi. *does happy dance for concert prospects*

  4. les
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 5:44 am | Permalink

    Claire, if you look on Jeremy’s schedule, he was at the Hamptons last weekend ( Aug. 4 ) not playing the Hammerkalvier but Brahms and he was in San Francisco twice last July if you are still wondering. Stern Grove and Davies Hall.

    It’s so funny that you had driven the people in the house away w/ your feverish Hammerklavier. I thought it would make them come close to the source of the sound and surround you w/ praises and applause! I know I would if I was one of the guests. Sure you had all the muffins and jelly. I wonder if the kids in the pool went back to their room. So you know now what to play if you want to be alone. Please don’t try that in the subway. You will never get a cent and be completely ignored.

  5. les
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I meant he played Mozart and Bartok in Bridgehampton. Not sure which date for his schedule stated Aug.4 but the Festival calendar said, Aug. 5.

  6. Posted August 12, 2007 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    les … thank you for filling me in 🙂 as far as his performances in sf are concerned, i wasn’t living in sf last summer … i just started going to college at a school in the bay area this past fall 🙂 i’m from sacramento, so i saw jeremy with joshua bell when they came to davis, which is near sacramento.

  7. Emily
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    Oh, the angst, the internal turmoil (and no I’m not referring to your disagreeable Pho). Sometimes what we think we desire is, in fact, remarkably different than what actually thumps us on the head and presents itself. Desires are infinitely more elusive than goals and far less suited for objective definitions. Your Hamptons experience sounds rather Stepfordesque. Perhaps your fellow housemates stepped out to play a game of croquet and sip Bellinis when you flushed them outdoors with your raucous playing.

  8. Posted August 12, 2007 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    I suppose I could tell you what happens to Ron and Hermione in the end, but you wouldn’t want me to spoil the suspense, now would you? 😉

  9. dayowl
    Posted August 13, 2007 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    Now it was revealed to me (thank you, Mr. Denk) why my finances are not flourishing (excuse the metaphor). It’s from listening to all that music.

  10. suzanne
    Posted August 14, 2007 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    i fear that many of the thinkdenk readers are twenty-somethings and, as such, may not appreciate the value of what they’ve just read (at least not the practical value).this is bloody important, so please, write it down: “the hammerklavier fugue can drive people away! all people. it can empty a room” write it down and put it someplace where you’ll be likely to find it in 15 years. I assure you that, in later years, this little jewel is..is..what…is the sum of all wisdom. you’ll need nothing more. Now I have to go learn the fugue. I think i’ll hum a little tune on my way to the piano. “oh happy day” maybe.

  11. Laura
    Posted August 17, 2007 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a little bit of teen wisdom, Jeremy. A quote from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You:
    “You’re 18, you don’t know what you want. And you won’t know what you want ’til you’re 45, and even if you get it, you’ll be too old to use it.”

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