Call Me Daniel

Updated: Sep 10, 2018

Classic Shingle Style Island House

    I have a tendency to wallow in my sullenness. Which is why it was no surprise that I didn’t stop starring through the ring of that sculpture at the Rockefeller Estate until a docent told me I had to leave because the gardens had closed five minutes ago. And really, I didn’t stop staring through it in my mind’s eye until I arrived back in Branford and realized that I couldn’t remember what my rental car looked like. The key in my pocket reminded me it was a Nissan, beyond that I thought it might be black. Or maybe silver. Possibly, it was white. Definitely it was something generic, but then again it is a Nissan so that could be redundant.

    I mindlessly clicked the unlock button as I sauntered through the parking lot. It took ten minutes until I saw the flashing lights of a vehicle that appeared to respond to my remote. This was an astonishing amount of time considering how small the parking lot is. As I walked up I was rather surprised to learn that my car was in fact red. A color I had not considered, nor desired. My surprise quickly faded as my anger rose, not only was it red, but it was a Juke. I instinctively always choose the cheapest rental. I should have known a Juke would be the cheapest, it is the worst. I find it offensively ugly. Why someone decided to use an angry hamster as design inspiration is beyond me. I crawled inside and grew more irritated as I noticed the redness of the exterior joined me on the interior in the form of a rather bulbous and very obnoxious, plastic center console. The last thought I remember having as I pulled out of the parking lot was “wouldn’t it be nice if there were carpenters for cars?” That thought was enough to catapult me into a new dream world where I imagined that it was normal for people to redo their cars' interiors like they redo their kitchens.

    This train of thought - imagining car floorings in wood and tile, car wallpaper, finely detailed dashboards in oak and limed like classic a British library - was an excellent escape from the ugliness of the world, which surrounded me for much of the rest of the drive. I was pulled out of my revery as the dense thick of the forest I'd been driving through for the last few miles gave way revealing Benedict's house perfectly framed by trees, water, and sky. Each of these constraints defined it’s loneliness and amplified its loveliness. Without all of these natural demarcations, Halcy-on-Top would be just like many other Connecticut homes: old, wooden, and vaguely interesting.

    Halcy-on-Top isn’t beautiful like Kykuit. It isn’t meant to be a masterpiece or a family seat. Truthfully, I have never really understood why Benedict’s family, which is nearly as wealthy as the Rockefeller’s, own it. It is actually smaller than their guest house at their place in the Hampton’s. From time to time, I've joked that it was an Ocean folly placed there to offer pleasant views from his family's yacht. I said as much to Ben once and he didn’t laugh. I don’t think he was offended, he just didn’t get it. In a very matter of fact way, he said “my parents usually keep our boat in the Mediterranean.” I never pushed the point, so I don’t really know how they came to own what is essentially a sea shanty. Somehow, I imagine it's most likely a family home, built by a man called to the sea. Now, three or so generations and several trust funds later, it has become a piece of property that either can’t legally be sold or won’t generate enough money to be worth paying a realtor. It's. the sort of place people emulate all over the country with varying degrees of ostentation. Fields of unpainted cedar shingle siding are bounded by unfettered white trim containing white sash windows with divided lights and simple doors made of v-groove panelling. Asymmetrical outcroppings give an ad-hoc, practical air, as though its creators anticipated the much lauded 20th century architectural notion, “form follows function.” Where a window would suit inside, they put a window, and where balcony seemed nice, they put one of those too. Today, we call this “The American Shingle Style,” but to its builders, I imagine this was just a house to keep the elements out. Why they thought to float the building materials 40 feet off shore to the a Little Rock outcropping rather than build at the shore, I'm not sure we'll ever know. Even less apparent is how the place came to be known as Halcy-on-Top, but so it is.

    “Call me Daniel,” I say to myself as I put my oars in the water to make my way across the glassy waters to the house. Feeling drawn to the sea myself, I recalled the view through the sculpture at the Rockefeller Estate. I had gone to Kykuit because I didn’t want to come back here. I don’t know why now. Through the sculpture, my mind was captured by a view of beauty and solitude, but I was surrounded by bustling tourists and “please do not touch signs.” Here, I am one with beauty and solitude. I feel like I am rowing into a painting. All around me, the still water makes me an island – but I am not alone. From Kykuit I was afforded a view of the beauty of America. Here I participate in it. The ramshackle hut hunkered atop the rock outcropping in front of me offers the first glimmer of hope my heart has felt in hours. Who were these strange people who built something so practical and impractical at once? Why does everything that's practical have to be just that anyway? I promise never to become puritanically practical.

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