20 Years Ago in “Dan’s Papers”: Billy Joel Walks Into A Pole



It was a warm evening just before the Fourth of July and the movie let out in East Hampton and as we spilled out into the sidewalk, there they were, Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley.

My girlfriend nodded to me and moved her head as if to say there they are, look at them, but don’t let them know you are looking at them. This is the unwritten rule of the Hamptons as far as celebrities go.

I did look at them. They obviously had just come out of a movie they had both liked. (Cinema one, two, three or four, who would know?) They were obviously having a good time with one another.

Christie was dressed impeccably as she always is. Dry, cool, beautiful. Billy Joel was dressed as he usually is. Sloppy, shirt out, in need of a shave. They are a perfect couple.

As I watched, I both saw it and heard it at the same time. They were walking along in front of the Cook Pony Farm Real Estate store and Billy had stopped and was looking at something in the window. Now he was skipping to catch up.

BONG. He walked right into a pole. I saw it. I’m sure about a dozen other people saw it. Everybody pretended not to see it.

Christie, startled by the sound, turned and saw Billy stagger back and kind of collapse against the side of the Cook Pony Farm building. He was still standing, but he was leaning now against the bricks, one arm against the building, the other on his face.

As Christie arrived, he lowered his arm and shook his head that, yes, he was all right. He stood up straight. Christie looked him in the eye, saw that he was indeed all right and then the two of them proceeded on their way as if nothing had happened.

The interesting part of all of this is that nobody lifted a finger or made any motion to even acknowledge that it had happened. If this had not been the famous rock star, strangers might have come over —this is a small town after all, not the streets of Manhattan—and inquired Are You All Right? Need Any Help? and had some minor conversation with the victim. We have all—well a good many of us—have walked into poles on the street.

Which leads me to wonder just what it is that a celebrity on the streets of the Hamptons would have to do to gain anybody’s attention? Well, that’s wrong. They’ve ALL got our attention. But what we do is PRETEND that they do not have our attention since this is a sophisticated resort, the place is crawling with celebrities, and we feel sorry for the fact that elsewhere they are always swarmed over and have come out here for their privacy and so are entitled to get it.

What would they have to do?

For example, suppose Billy Joel had been severely injured and was bleeding profusely when he walked into that pole. Any interest? Nope. People would allow him his privacy. Walk right by.

How about if he got really angry and whacked Christie Brinkley over the head with something and then had run off. Anybody going to ask Christie how she is? Anybody going to run after Billy Joel? Nope.

Some years ago, a city planner named Jane Jacobs described how, in the neighborhood, there is kind of an overall policing system by those that live and work there. They keep an eye on kids out in the street out of the corner of their eyes. They sound the alarm if there is any trouble.

From this perspective, celebrities walking around the Hamptons are actually in some danger. Things could happen to them and nobody pays the slightest bit of attention. It’s how they want it, everybody thinks.

So what, in fact, would Billy Joel have to do? Well, he’d have to actually fall down I think. Be in terrible physical distress. Maybe screaming in pain.

And then, I think, just maybe, maybe, people on the street might come over to see what the trouble was.

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