It’s been nearly 20 years now that this country has been obsessed with concerns for personal safety. There are ramps for the disabled, elevators in public buildings for when people might have to go up or down stairs, car seats for the kiddies that have to be strapped in the back, seat belts for the adults in the front seat, or the cops give you a ticket. Even the jungle gyms of my youth are gone. Instead there are playgrounds with rubber cushions on the ground. Climb-y things where if you lost your grip you might fall six inches. And nurses’ offices in schools? Nobody lays a hand on a kid anymore. God forbid if he has a headache they might give out an aspirin. They don’t even have aspirins! It’s against the law!
Back in my day as a little boy, the men were men, the women were women and the kids were kids. So what if we went sleigh riding out into the street? You looked both ways before you went down. So what if we played softball at a schoolyard surrounded by a four-foot-tall chain link fence with the spikes on the top in left field. We were KIDS! And kids were kids. There are plenty more of us where we came from. [expand]
Frankly, it’s been this whole focus on personal safety that I blame for the last-minute cancellation of this year’s Dan’s Papers Kite Fly. Never before in the 38-year history of this popular annual event has it been cancelled. It’s simply unheard of. But this year they did it.
Why? They said there was the possibility of rain. (Boo-hoo.) They said the tide was very high and the surf was sliding up under the lifeguard stand. (Omigod.) They said the weather forecast predicted “chance of thunder and lightning” and people might get electrocuted. (Ouch!) They said the Town had “closed the beach,” dismissed the employees there for the day—bathroom attendants gone, lifeguards gone, parking lot ticket-takers gone, maintenance people gone—and so who would protect the participants? (Spooky.)
What would they do if somebody had the water come up past where they were standing and got their little tootsies wet? What if somebody had a kite come down and bonk them on the head?
And so, after the Town stood down, the people now running the event at Dan’s Papers stood down. It wasn’t up to me. I no longer do the work. After 35 years, I’ve been promoted to President of Dan’s Papers. I show up, but running the event is BENEATH me.
Everybody was told about the cancellation. The magician was called. The face painter was called. The band was called. The people dressed up as cartoon characters were called. The kite judges were called. And if the participants and their kids could not be called, they were nevertheless told by a big sign when they showed up that the Kite Fly was cancelled but was being rescheduled and would now be held on Saturday, August 27 between 5:30 and 7 p.m., and so come back to Sagg Main Beach then.
It’s amazing this could have happened. In the days of yore, we had our little problems and tragedies at the Kite Fly, but we pushed through.
I remember problems at the third Kite Fly. It was held in 1978, not at Sagg Main Beach, but at the nearby Peter’s Pond Beach a mile to the east. There were no facilities at Peter’s Pond Beach, no pavilions or bathrooms (people went in the dunes) and no changing rooms. Indeed, there still are none today. There was nothing. Just woods and small wild animals such as snakes and coyotes. On that third Kite Fly we had a big wave come thundering in. Nothing like a big tsunami or anything—we didn’t even know about tsunamis or even how to spell tsunami back then—and this wave, which was maybe five feet high, came thundering in and out it went again taking with it three small kids and a cocker spaniel. But oh well, there were plenty more kids where they came from, and we felt bad about it for awhile and talked about the three that were gone, wishing we had spent more time with them and stuff, but we got over it. The cocker spaniel, “Pudgie,” was a different matter. He was most beloved. We mourned the loss. A rock with his name on it is on that beach to this day.
At the fifth Kite Fly in 1980, still at Peter’s Pond Beach, the famous rock band Howie McCone and the Drifters plugged in their electric guitars during the potato fog which had drifted over the dunes and down onto us and, in a flash, Howie McCone and the Drifters were gone, up in smoke, which is why you’ve never heard of them today. It was a bad connection or something.
We held the 1986 Kite Fly at the beach right in the middle of Hurricane Diana and its 130 mph winds that blew all the steeples off all the churches in the Hamptons that summer. The crowds were a little thinner than usual there at the beach, and five people flew away to their deaths when they failed to let go of the kite strings when told to do so, but otherwise it was uneventful.
At the eighth Kite Fly in 1987, a giant eel slithered up the beach and, just before the judging was to begin, with one gulp ate a parent, Horace Doomstrong, who had come with his new girlfriend Bubbles and his four kids, which he had that Saturday because he had them every other weekend. Nobody liked him anyway. He beat Brenda, his wife. Everybody knew it and people frowned upon it. And he spanked his kids with a tennis racket, not the flat of his hand, which was the proper way to do it. Using a tennis racket or anything else was just for sissies. We buried what was left of him, just a big ruby encrusted pinky ring, right there on the beach, marked the grave with a tennis racket, and Bubbles cried. There’s no trace of that there now. Good riddance, Horace. As for the big eel, we all stomped him to death. He wouldn’t be doing that again.
In 1989, we moved the event off Peter’s Pond Beach after Peter’s Pond, which had always been seen in outline form on maps at the Assessor’s Office, but which nobody had ever seen, suddenly appeared. It had been a very wet spring. Peter’s Pond put almost the entire southern end of Peter’s Pond Road underwater, and since wading through it to get to the beach meant you had to hold your kite up over your head to keep it from getting wet while leaving your kids to either swim or sink, it was decided the pond was an obstacle that might be there for generations and a beach nearby, Sagg Main, was just as good.
Since then, with all the safety stuff at Sagg Main, all has gone without incident. The kids all have to be on bungee cords attached to their parents. Only beach chairs with seat belts are allowed. The old jungle gym there has been torn down and is replaced by a big dumb rubber mat. And if a sea lion shows up he gets herded over by the Sea Mammal Rescue Squad to the place where the other endangered sea lions are kept, at the west end of the beach next to the piping plover nesting area, before he can bite anybody.
Oh, we did have a kid break a fingernail at our Kite Fly at Sagg Main in 1997. But he was choppered over to Stony Brook University Hospital for treatment within the eight-minute window allowed. And in 2005 a kid stepped on a seashell and cut his foot, but the ambulance whisked him away to Southampton Hospital—before he could infect anybody else—and he was treated and released.
He did sue the town, however, for taking away the fun he would have had had he stayed at the Kite Fly enjoying the competition, the 12 prizes, the band, the magic and the face painting with all his friends. And of course the Town did settle, paying him an undisclosed sum in exchange for the kid signing a document saying he would never again sue the Town for damage to that part of his body should it get injured again within one year.
See you at Sagg Main at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, August 27. It’s gonna be great fun!!