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The Willy-Nilly Heart of a Nalu Town

Before Mom died, I was sort of working on another library exhibit. I planned to artistically render in photographic form the subjectively sensed heart of twelve Long Island towns--in other words, places where I personally detected a feeling that Stuff Is Happening in This Particular Spot. I came up with the theme when I was photographing an event at my heart of Huntington, Industry, which will have its own post featuring an abundance of -ly adverbs.


But there was a long lead time for my Heart of a Town show: I didn't need to hang it till May 2023, which, when I signed the contract, was ages away. Because I am a professional procrastinator, I proceeded to do nothing, and as the number of months dwindled, so did the number of towns under consideration. Then all of a sudden it was April, and I absolutely had to get my shit together. Which is one reason procrastination exists: to electrify yo lazy ass into action.


One Monday morning, I learned via Ryan Adams's Instagram post about his impromptu gig at the Patchogue Theater. Gee, I did not know there was a Patchogue Theater. I went right over to the website and discovered that I also did not know David Sedaris was reading there that very night. This discovery required the prompt acquisition of two mezzanine tickets for Sean and me and mapping out our afternoon and evening, which for Sean involved teaching PM school at Bay Shore HS, just down the way from Patchogue. It seemed stupid to drive two cars. At that point, I had a brainstorm: while Sean taught, I would make practical use of my time by poking around the town of Bay Shore to locate what felt to me like its heart and photograph it.


Bay Shore is a these-days-thriving South Shore town where you can pick up a carburetor and a hand-crafted doughnut and a pastrami sandwich and a fresh-ground cup of coffee and a comic book and a craft beer. It's a destination for dining out. It's a port for the ferry that transports you across the Great South Bay to the one-of-a-kind Fire Island.


On a cool blue Monday afternoon, though, it was a little sleepy. After walking several blocks stocked with gorgeous eateries not due to open till dinner, I was pleased to see a store with an outdoor rack of colorful dresses breezily summoning my attention.



The proprietors understood the allure of sparkly things, and I suddenly remembered that I'd been coveting a silver thumb ring.



In I went.



Good grief. I'd stumbled upon Jewelry Heaven. I needed an intervention from a salesperson to prevent accidental purchases, including but not limited to these glittery, inspirational dainties.



I appealed to store manager Theresa, who achieved a swift, exact understanding of what I was looking for ("You want something a little more elegant, right?" and "This line of rings is adjustable! They should be perfect!"). In short order, I had a lovely little silver ring tendriling elegantly around my thumb. I was so impressed by the ease and pleasure of my shopping experience that I asked permission of co-owner Marilyn to call Willy Nilly Trading Company my heart of Bay Shore and feature its photos.


There is so much to want at Willy Nilly. Art. Home decor. Clothing. Accessories. Gifts for friends, babies, brides. Long Island swag. Beachwear and beach wares, beauty and self-care. For example: despite the fact that I am not currently in possession of a baby girl, I desperately needed a flowered, ruffled onesie that I escaped buying only by taking eight photos of it.




On the whole, I was feeling pretty good when I left Willy Nilly. I'd located my thumb ring, had several fabulous chats, and checked off a town. So when I wandered over to Nalu . . .



. . . I did so strictly as a customer, drawn in by the sunshine of the window display.



I am all about the sunshine. And the sweatshirts. Unfortunately not as much about the surfing and skateboarding (one of Mom's favorite sayings was "Beth's a klutz," and she wasn't being mean just for sport).



But look, the store is so freaking cool. It's like an art gallery all on its own. Can a town be in possession of two hearts? Absofreakinglutely.



Owner Marie told me that teens sometimes come in just to hang out on the comfy sofa. She has two kids herself, so she gets it. She confided that she's been considering an air hockey table for the back.



I told Marie I was in the market for some great new graphic tees. They have an abundance, and I spent a long time deliberating my selections down to two. I did also score a sweatshirt, because you cannot have too many, at least until you overrun your closet shelves and then you pass them on and get more which is not exactly a sound strategy for the environment but provides so very much simple satisfaction.



Dear reader, I feel at this point compelled to explain now why you're viewing a blog post and not a library exhibit: because I have at last learned enough about my limits to veer away from a collision of loss and delay by doing the nearly unfathomable: asking for help. My splendid friend Kristen lit the way with her fellow Firefly Artists. (Go see their group show at the Northport Library through the month of May!)


If I take my Heart of a Town thesis a little further, I can see that the pulse I'm looking for is less about stuff happening and more about people connecting. After all, I can (and do) buy sweatshirts and rings online. But to walk myself into an actual physical place and have a good talk with a fellow human, even on a day when I'm feeling awkward, to admire the realization and curation of someone's dream--and support it via my own--is to locate heart; specifically, Heart of a Small Town.




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