Sag Harbor: Chapter 4

I’m glad there were some readers who remembered the New Coke tragedy and found it funny. There are lots of ’80s references here and there that I identify with, but to list them all would make these posts even longer!

So, in this chapter, I noticed that Benji spends a good amount of time thinking about the families that no longer come out to Sag Harbor because it turned out that the fathers had other families somewhere else. He thinks a lot about which was the Real Family and which was the Other Family. The father was “One man, two houses. Two faces.” He says, “Each house made the other a lie.” Maybe his preoccupation with this has to do with his own family. Being a teenager, Benji spends a lot of time thinking about what’s real and what’s fake, but I don’t think it’s just teenage angst behind this thought.

When Benji sees Randy’s BB gun, he says, “It looked real, but that was the point. If it looked real, you could pretend it was real, and if you had a real gun you could pretend to be someone else.” This, I think, is very poignant. Who are these boys trying to be and why?

I like how Benji describes the meaning of “That’s uncool”: “I liked uncool because it meant there was a code that everyone agreed on. The rules didn’t change—everything in the universe was either cool or uncool, no confusion.” To me, Benji wants a code, order, some kind of universal understanding.

As the boys enter Randy’s house, Randy yells that he’s inside with friends, and his mom shuts the door. Thinking about Randy’s family, Benji describes knowing kids who had “fathers who were a variety of gone.” This is just another moment of cracking the happy image of life with a second home on the beach, I think.

Oh, the mention of an Apple II+ made me laugh. I had an Apple IIe!

The description of Bobby’s grandfather is interesting: “Gentle in that way that said he’d seen a lot of racist sh** in his life and was glad that things had turned out better for his children and grandchildren. That cool old breed.” Benji is impressed with Bobby’s grandfather, knows he has a history and stories to tell. I think Benji is always aware that there is a world and a history bigger than him. Benji then contrasts Bobby’s grandfather with Bobby and how he tries to hide “his grandfather’s soft features in the scowl of a thug, the thug of his inverted Westchester fantasies. A kind of blackface.” Again, Benji thinks about how people fake it.

Benji has no interest in the BB gun until he learns that Reggie tried it out. He picks it up and puts his finger around the trigger and says he gets the gist. I guess he just wants to know what his brother is up to. Benji sees through the posturing: “This BB-gun sh** was making people act like dummies.”

Benji spends a lot of time speculating—about the Other Families, about the rusty red Karmann Ghia. I wonder why he is always trying to come up with backstories.

Benji describes Clive as “the only sensible one among us, but he seemed to enjoy taking a few shots.” Clive suggests Benji try the BB gun. Benji is impressed with this diplomatic move, describing it “Co-opt the complainer.” I think that too has significance for Benji in the scene with his father that follows soon after.

At the climax of the first BB-gun incident, Randy shoots at NP’s feet. Benji says, “That’s uncool,” but no one answers with “the other-shoe ‘That’s so uncool.’ ” Poor Benji. No one gets him.

I found the night in the fourth grade when Benji’s father slaps him across the face pretty devastating. It’s significant that Benji would identify with the cousin of Greedo (a Star Wars character) and describe him as “ ‘a credit to his race,’ ” which is basically what his father ends up hitting him for. Benji thinks, “The lesson was, Don’t be afraid of being hit, but over the years I took it as, No one can hurt you more than I can. The same end result, really.” I keep thinking about the conflicting lesson of standing up for yourself but being scared of your father. How will this play out, I wonder.

OK, that’s it for now. I’ll have an extra thought or two about this chapter tomorrow. What do you think so far?

–Janet Kim