Cleaning Out 2221: That Wallet I Lost in 1977 Just Turned Up. So Did 8 Tracks

So over this past weekend, Dan’s Papers moved out of its historic old building at 2221 Montauk Highway in Bridgehampton to a brand new building on County Road 39 up near Burger King, but across from it. The new place is sensationally larger. We have a conference room that the Security Council from the UN could meet in. We have a kitchen. We have so much room there are going to be parts of it which nobody will be in until 2015. Come visit us at 158 County Road 39.

Normally, I wouldn’t be writing about such a move. These things happen when a business grows. But the interesting thing about it is what I found in my specific office at the old place, not where the rest of the staff works, but in my small-bedroom-sized office upstairs, where I have been ensconced since I bought this building 41 years ago. That was 1971.

For example, I found a stack of old 78 records that include one entitled “Lucky, Lucky Lindbergh, the Eagle of the U. S. A.” I have a pretty good idea that this had been made during the hysteria that followed Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight from Long Island to Paris in 1927. I certainly know exactly where these records came from. They came from the attic of a home of a World War I lieutenant whose house I bought in 1968 in East Hampton for $9,250.

I found five checks written by my mother in 1957 to various wholesalers who supplied the drug store in Montauk my parents bought when I was 16 years old in 1955. They were sent to me in the 1990s by the Lycke family whose moving company had been hired to clean out the old abandoned Montauk Manor Tennis Court building that had in the 1950s had been used as a storage warehouse for the businesses in town and thought I might like to see them.

They’d found them in a filing cabinet. (That building today is the Montauk Playhouse.) They were made out to McGregor Sportswear, to Breyer’s Ice Cream and to Eastman Kodak.

I found photos of myself with various celebrities, including Mel Brooks, Mario Cuomo and Bill Clinton. I found a letter sent to me by Robert F. Kennedy, thanking me for the work I was doing to save the Montauk Lighthouse from being knocked down. This was one year before he was assassinated in 1967.

Perhaps most interesting of all, I found a single sheet of paper which has written on it, longhand, various expenses and incomes I incurred running Dan’s Papers which seems to have resulted in a decline in my finances to the tune of $844.15. Among the things listed as costs are “damaged truck” for $250, “debt for VW engine and rental” for $650, a payment to “Jeff” for “legwork for deadbeats,” and to “Mike” for $671.50 for “layout.” I print a copy of this piece of paper here. As you can see it is dated 12/31/71, a year’s summing up, or at least messed around with for details, for Dan’s Papers for that year.

Some of the objects I found include a model bi-plane made entirely out of a Diet Coke can. I recall buying this at a yard sale in Memphis, Tennessee when I went there in the early 1990s. I found my high school diploma. I found a plaque awarded to me by Dr. Randolph for a concert competition at the Randolph Music School in 1944 when I was five. I played piano. I even found a bullseye target I shot up while at Camp Makenac in Lenox, Massachusetts when I was 11. Except for one stray, I got the bullseye in every shot I fired.

Now don’t be asking how an 11-year-old gets to fire a rifle at a camp. This was a long time ago. We did stuff like that then.

I found a folder that was labeled “idea for an article—1969.” Inside were 10 sheets of paper.

Here’s the story to those 10 sheets. Back then everybody worked on typewriters. There were stores that sold them. Sometimes you could wander in and a typewriter would be on display with a sheet of paper in it so you could try it out. Sometimes there were old sheets of paper next to it just lying there all typed on. These were those sheets of paper, all filled with what maybe 100 shoppers wrote on a typewriter in a store. I LOVE SUSAN. THIS IS TOO HEAVY TO BUY FOR ME. I WONDER HOW MUCH THIS IS. THE LAZY FOX JUMPED OVER THE MOON. SCOOBY SCOOBY DOOBY DOO. Apparently, in 1969, I had thought to write a story about these ramblings for Dan’s Papers but never got around to it.

I would like to comment briefly about the entry on that piece of paper for “debt for VW engine and rental.” It is on my mind.

Back there in 1971 (Nixon was President. The war in Vietnam was winding down), I would, as we do today, use these white vans that we fill with bundles of newspapers to make the deliveries to the various stores in town. I had been in the habit of buying a new van every three or four years from Ben Hull of Hull Chevrolet in Southampton for approximately $3,500. That was a lot of money back then. But I spent it because I had to fill these vans up with about 3,000 pounds of newsprint for each delivery. They were rated at one ton. They could do that.

One year, I saw an ad for Volkswagen. They had come out with a new van that, the ad said, could hold 3,000 pounds. It was not a big part of the ad, just one of the details. But that caught my eye because the cost of this van was just $1,800. I went over to the Volkswagen dealership in Southampton (there was one), and talked to a salesman about it. The vans were all shiny new. I took one for a drive. This was great! I talked further to him about it. Pickup was pretty crappy. My two Chevy Vans had 250-horsepower engines. This van had only a 48-horsepower engine. He assured me the van would hold 3,000 pounds and pointed to it again right there in the specs.

One hundred days later—I remember it was 100 days exactly—the engine of this van blew on the Montauk Highway in Water Mill right by the turn off to the Old Mill. I got called at the office. We went out with the Chevy Van and a tow rope. There it was, filled to the brim with bundles of newspapers. 3,000 pounds of Dan’s Papers. We towed it back to the office. The engine was beyond repair, but the dealership said they would stand behind it and put in a new one even though the warranty was just for 90 days.

The note on this piece of paper “debt for VW engine and rental” is not for the exploding of this engine. It is for the exploding of that second engine, which came 140 days later on Butter Lane in Bridgehampton with the van also filled to the brim with newspapers and off on a route. After that happened, and I learned that this time they were enforcing the 90-day rule, I strode in to point out to them that right there in black and white it says the van will hold 3,000 pounds.

“It says it will HOLD it,” the Vice President told me. “It doesn’t say you can DRIVE it anywhere.”

By the way, in the yellow pages of the telephone book in that era, I now was able to discover there were pages and pages of listings for firms selling “Rebuilt VW Engines.” This was a whole industry.

I guess you’ve realized by now I am an unreconstructed pack rat. I save everything. Someday, after the apocalypse destroys all life on Earth as we know it and intelligent aliens arrive to see what’s what, they will set up an entire committee to reconstruct my life here.

I had also initially decided, in the final days before our move, that I would throw all this stuff out. It was 4 p.m. I threw out an entire box filled with brochures from various hotels and tourist sites I had been to in my travels over the years (Guatemala, the Canary Islands, the Soviet Union, Martinique, New Zealand and by count 48 other countries) and then, after going home and going to bed in a state of hysteria, I returned the next morning to try to get them all back out of the trash—but it had already been picked up. I felt terrible.

I talked to friends. The consensus was—why throw everything out? I have no answer for that. To make room? I have plenty of room. I read an article in The New York Times which consisted of an interview with former astronaut and Congressman John Glenn who this year is 91, and he acknowledges he is a packrat and he says he has all his paraphernalia in 140 plastic tubs. I am nowhere near that. But if he can do it, I can do it.

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