On a brilliant afternoon at Mecox Bay, while one of our friends made lunch, the other offered to take my husband and me for a spin in their Boston Whaler. We three walked barefoot to the dock for a short, unserious outing.
Feeling like 12-year-olds on the lake at camp, we shed our septuagenarian identities. We were practically singing, we were so happy. For about 15 minutes, we motored quietly behind a flotilla of swans. Then, the sound of the engine changed. When it stopped, our host tossed an aluminum oar to my husband and said, “Paddle.”
At the nearest bulkhead, we tied up to get help, as if this were a perfectly ordinary and sane thing to do on a Saturday in Water Mill. But wait, it’s no longer precisely Water Mill. It’s The Hamptons, a name that obliterates the distinct charm of each village; a name that merges them into a conglomerate.
The Hamptons, home to celebrities—people who are first-rate at making themselves well-known, rather than well-known for making themselves first-rate.
The Hamptons. Where it’s impossible to find a shoe repair shop or any of the ordinary services enjoyed by those who have lived here from the end of the colonial era to the beginning of…The Hamptons.
Nevertheless, our friend, a Mecox resident for decades, and my husband and I, who have been local homeowners for 40 years, thinking we were in known territory, climbed out of the boat. All of us were without wallets or cellphones or shoes. I can see that we might appear crazy to anyone who goes down to the sea in ships; but, to us, Mecox is a bathtub and the Whaler is a toy.
We hoisted ourselves onto the bulkhead, amazed that our well-used bones could accomplish this feat. We approached a house with six separate entrances, resembling those in a row of townhouses. Four sports cars were placed like compass points on a circular driveway. “Oh, good, someone must be home.”
I suggested we call out, so as not to surprise anyone, especially a dog! “Hell-ooo-ooo.” Through a screen door, we saw a plush, but empty, sitting room. We continued to call.
After 10 minutes, another door opened and a handsome man with white hair, a white mustache and sky-blue eyes emerged. The ties of his dark apron wrapped twice around his slim waist. The bib protected his expensive blue-and-white striped shirt with starched collar and cuffs. He was the butler, he said; and in just a few minutes, Brian would be coming to help us.
“Please, could you call a taxi for us, so we can get some gas and motor off?”
“No,” he said, “I’m afraid not. You’ll have to wait for Brian.”
“We really can’t wait much longer. Our friend’s wife will worry. She expected us back for lunch half an hour ago.”
“Sorry,” he said, “You can’t leave the premises until Security has a chance to check you.”
Security? We’re neighbors. We told him our names and our host’s address, directly across the cove. We apologized for intruding. All we needed was gas.
“I’m sorry,” he said, quite genuinely. “I truly am, but now you’re here and now you’ll have to do things our way.”
Another man—in a business suit, white shirt and tie—raced toward us and demanded, “Who are you and just what are you doing here and how did you get in?”
We told our story again. He hurried us to the end of the driveway, telling the butler to keep us there until he returned. Then, quite abruptly, he jogged off.
My husband patted his own hip and gestured toward the departing jogger. I noticed a bulge. My husband whispered, “Gun!” The rude fellow was packing heat! Was this a movie or my life?
In his charming French accent, the butler apologized for his co-worker’s order that my escorts and I scurry along the gravel in bare feet. Then he added, “You came at the worst possible time. The owner is in residence. You really don’t want to know who he is or where you are. You have no idea what you stepped into.”
“No, no.” I said, “You’re right. I really don’t want to know. I just want to go home. Please, call us a taxi.”
“Sorry, I can’t.”
By now, I was sure my blood pressure was about to burst an artery.
“Well,” he said, “I don’t care who knows, so I’m going to tell you anyway.” He smiled like a good friend who’s about to tell you something no one else will. “It’s ______ ______’s house,” he said with great pride.
Then, his cellphone (which he wouldn’t let us use to call a taxi) rang. I leaned against my husband and whispered, “Who is _____ ______? I never heard of him.”
“Shh,” he said. “Tell you later.”
“Now!” I commanded. “Right now!”
“Okay. Okay. He’s the CEO of _____________. Probably one of the richest men in America. A billionaire many times over.”
Some people memorize the big board at Wall Street’s Coliseum as zealously as the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium. To them, gladiators in the Fortune 500 League are as familiar and admired as pitchers in the American League.
After a few minutes, we learned there really is a Brian. He’s smiling.
Friendly, actually. He said a driver would take us to the nearest gas station to get the right mix for the boat. We told him that we had no money.
“We’ll take care of everything. We want you out of here as soon as possible, before our boss knows you’ve been here. It’s taken us so long because we were already on another surveillance when you arrived.”
No wonder The Hamptons are referred to as a war zone. In summer, simultaneous invasions overwhelm the troops.
The butler phoned the driver. “Listen, these people are elderly. You’ve got to have some respect. You can’t just keep them here. It’s hot. They’re tired. They don’t have shoes.”
Elderly! And here I was feeling so athletic, hoisting myself onto the bulkhead!
The driver appeared and told us to get in the car; it didn’t sound inviting. He gave us three bottles of cold water, but berated us for being out in a boat without phones or money or ID. As a New York cop, out here on a private security gig, he informed us he would throw us in jail if we were in the city. “That’s the law!” Like a big brother half our age, he advised us never to be without ID again.
By this time, I was truly miserable. I felt kidnapped, held against my will in a car. I said I wish I could go home. My husband asked, “Would you please take my wife home, so she doesn’t have to deal with the boat again. Maybe it won’t start up. Maybe it will take a while to resolve things.”
“Sorry,” says our chauffeur, looking as if he stepped straight out of The Godfather. “My instructions are to take you to the gas station and back to your boat. Nowhere else.”
When we returned to where it is we don’t want to know we are, which belongs to him whose name we also don’t want to know, everyone was smiling and nice to us. “We’re so sorry. You just can’t be too careful these days.”
They explained that their boss, who has gates and armed guards and cameras, feels vulnerable to an attack by sea.
We three elders in our baseball caps and bare feet probably met the criterion for his most terrifying fantasy. Meantime, his protectors must have checked our names. Apparently, we did not appear on the Most Wanted list. Nor were we on a roster of Navy SEALs.
The two tough guys filled up the boat’s gas tank. They helped us to our seats with the respect and care elderly people like us suddenly appreciated. They started the engine. Like twin James Bonds, they jumped from the boat onto the bulkhead in one smooth motion. They managed to do all the dirty work without mussing their hair or soiling their suit jackets. They wished us well. Up on land, above us, waving, they almost looked like cadets, saluting us for a job well done.
“We’ll return with money for the gas!” we promised.
“No. No. Please. Go home. Be well. Don’t bother to come back.”
These good neighbors, without expecting anything in return, gave us three bottles of cold water and $6.09 worth of gas. Where else in the world could someone receive such treatment?