An Alternative to Hiding When the Crowds Arrive

The arrival of herds of people on Memorial Day weekend here in the Hamptons is such a shock to us year rounders that most of just stay home until it’s over. That’s what I usually do. On the other hand, on Saturday, seeing the continuation of all the weekend’s rainy, miserable weather, I decided, after much consideration, to head out. How bad could it be?

I’d do some errands. Ignore the crowds. I’d go to Gubbins Running Ahead here in town (East Hampton), where, several weeks ago, they called to say my walking shoes had come in. Parking in the lot there, I knew, would be hard, but if I left early enough it might be all right. Another stop I’d make would be to Dr. Turetsky’s Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton on Route 114 going to Sag Harbor. They had called last week to say I had left my hat there the last time we had brought in our dog, Bella. There’d be no problem parking out of town.

Also, there’d be no problem parking at Kmart, my farthest away and final destination. They have a huge lot. I needed to buy a bag of ten white crew socks there. You must know there are no white crew socks anywhere east of Bridgehampton, what with all the crowds and their chic stores that have driven out the mom and pops. Socks at Kmart would be the high point of my Memorial Day Saturday. I’ll bet you thought the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend would be a bit fancier for the Editor in Chief of Dan’s Papers.

As I put on my raincoat to leave the house here on Three Mile Harbor, I also thought that if I was going to the vet toward Sag Harbor, I might as well go all the way and take the back roads to Bridgehampton. Even in this weather, the Montauk Highway would surely be jammed, and if I did go to Sag Harbor, I could take my Apple MacBook to GeekHampton in Sag Harbor so they could take five minutes to show me why it was not backing up to an external hard drive.

Then, out of the house and heading down Three Mile Harbor Road, I thought of something else. There were two brunches my wife and I had been invited to. Both were in Sag Harbor, one at Gail Furman’s on Ferry Road, and the other at the home of Kevin and Deb McEneaney to celebrate the upcoming Artist-Writer’s Softball Game exhibit opening at Guild Hall on June 15.

From the car, I called my wife at home to tell her I was going, something I had not intended to do when I had planned to stay home all day. She was going to Gail Furman’s in her own car a little later. I would now meet her there.

But the call would not go through. Then I remembered. When the summerpeople come on the big weekends, cell phone lines get overloaded. Everybody is saying Here I Am in the Hamptons. Usually you have to call three or four times to get a line. I got her on the fifth try. I’m bringing Bella, my wife said, referring to our dog. Okay, I said.

Then she told me she’d had a call from Ina and Bob Caro. Would we be free tonight? They could arrange a dinner and a show. And I thought, well, I’m up and out and it’s supposed to rain into the night so, well, sure.

So here was the order of the day. Shoes, Vet, Furman, Artist-Writers lunch, Kmart, and then home. Well, if I was going to Kmart I might as well go to Starbucks. And on the way home, I’d be in a direct line to stop at the small ARF benefit at their rummage store in Sagaponack on the Montauk Highway. It was now 10:30. I would be home by three, at which time I could take a short nap. I nap every day. Been doing it for years. Then I’d get ready for the dinner and show.

Here’s how it all went. Before I even got to North Main Street, I found myself at the back of a traffic jam still on Three Mile Harbor Road. The traffic has NEVER been backed up this far. What was going on? It must be the Memorial Day parade downtown, I thought. I’d be crazy to go downtown. I still had shoes on my feet. My shoes at Gubbins could wait another day. I took evasive action. I turned right on Oakview Highway, zigzagged over to Cedar Street, then headed for the vet on Route 114. Now I thought to call ahead to Turetsky. So they could have the hat ready. Crazy? Yes. This was from stress. My blood pressure was rising. After three tries, the call went through.

“That was picked up last week,” I was told. “It’s not on the hook anymore.”

“That wasn’t picked up by me,” I said.

“Well, it’s picked up.”

I thought maybe my wife had picked it up. So I tried calling her again, and on the first try got through.

“Did you pick up my hat at the vet?” I asked. “I left it there. You were with me.”

“I don’t remember you left your hat there though,” she said.

“Well, I don’t remember leaving it there, either. But they called last week to say I did.”

“The person who owned the hat must have picked it up. It wasn’t you.”

Entering Sag Harbor, I turned off Route 114 on High Street to avoid having to go all the way down to the Wharf, and so instead came down past Billy Joel’s house to Bay Street, turned right and pulled into the GeekHampton parking lot at the very end of the road there. As I pulled in, I saw a giant 40-foot-tall American flag hovering over the road just past GeekHampton. Two building cranes, one on each side of the road, were holding it up, and firemen in full regalia were everywhere. There was a young blonde woman firefighter, all dressed up in a black-and-yellow firefighter’s outfit that looked five sizes too big for her, directing traffic. I snuck by her, into the lot.

“Hey, Joe,” she said to the motorist arriving behind me. “If you came in ten minutes later, I couldn’t let you back out.”

Apparently, the entire Memorial Day parade would be coming down Main Street and ending under that flag.

I figured I’d need to get the Apple Macbook Pro fixed real quick or I’d be there an hour. I raced in, in a panic. But the place was packed with shoppers.
“Oh, Jesus,” I said. I began to panic. I went over to the checkout counter. They know me. I pleaded for help. I have to get in and out. The customers stepped aside. And the minor fix was made, though it did take 15 minutes, while I kept glancing out the window to the firelady, over and over. When it was done, I started for the door, but the technician said, “I have to charge you for a quarter of an hour,” and headed over to the cash register to take up even more time.

“I have to leave,” I wailed. Sheryl, who owns the place, came over. I yelled at her. “I can pay later. I just have to get out of here.” She backed off. I ran out.

The rain had gotten worse. Now the firemen were taking the giant flag down. You don’t fly a flag in the rain. But what about the parade? No time to ask. I just ran for my car, pulled out and headed down Bay Street thinking that any minute it would slam shut ahead of me. But it didn’t. I’d made it. But I was hyperventilating. Soon, I was up to Ferry Road and passing Gail’s house, which is behind hedgerows, then making a dangerous U-turn and heading back to it.

Gail’s property is eight acres on the water, with kayaks pulled up on her beach, a main house, a gazebo, a sandbox and jungle gym for the kids, tennis courts, basketball courts, a chip and putting green with a sandtrap, a swimming pool, poolhouse, swings from tall trees and, on this occasion, as every year, a pizza truck with an awning and a wood-burning stove not far from the screened-in porch. All the little kids and dogs were running around, all the adults were standing around talking, even in this rain, and my hysteria did abate, but not by much. I talked to some other guests, her son Jessie and his family, Mark Green and his family, lots of others. My wife came, I had two slices of right-out-of-the-oven pizza, shook hands, thanked the host and left.

The Artist-Writers Game party was next. But though I have been to the McEneaney’s before, I could not find the house. They live in a part of Sag Harbor that has rolling hills, numerous curving streets, and though I know the house when I see it, I found that with my GPS compromised because of the lack of phone service (damn summerpeople), I just got lost. It will be over before I get there, I thought.

Finally, I found a parking space far down a hill, parked and was walking up the street toward the house in the rain, having left the umbrella in the car, when I found myself joined by a man wearing a baseball cap, who I thought was Walter Isaacson. He seemed to be that, through the rain on my glasses. I said, “Sorry I haven’t sent that article I wrote about you to check for accuracy yet, but I didn’t finish it until yesterday. I sat for three weeks without the ending, because I hadn’t had time to finish it when I wrote it, but since I read all three of your biographies, I knew I’d be able to finish it easily. I’ll email it to you.”

But this was not Walter Isaacson. It was Walter Bernard. Now what do I do?

At this party, famished, I ate two hamburgers and some beans and some cookies, then a hot dog and some more beans. It was only my second lunch. I talked with Mort Zuckerman awhile and Gail Sheehy and Walter Bernard again (we laughed), and then I was off to Bridgehampton and to the big Starbucks with the soft club chairs there, where I thought I could go and drink coffee and write and settle down before Kmart. I love to write these stories. But for the half an hour I was there, three different people, even seeing that I was typing on my laptop, came over to me to talk. Usually I am left alone. But these were stressed-out year arounders. So I talked and I got not much got done. Then it was off to Kmart.

Kmart, of course, was the very goal of my long journey of this day, my farthest and largest stop from home. It would climax everything. So I parked in the big lot, full of cars, went into Kmart, which had all 12 registers manned with checkout people ringing up lines of customers, picked up my bag of ten socks in the men’s department, took a second bag for good measure, got on line, gave my purchases to the checkout guy who swipes them, then, upon being asked to swipe my credit card, get it out and, just before I can do that, all the lights in Kmart go out and plunge us all into darkness.

“Ooooooooh,” everybody says. The power’s been sucked up by the summerpeople, I think.

I am bitter. “Ten seconds more and I woulda been outta here,” I say to the man behind me. He looks at me blankly.

“Kmart Shoppers. Attention Kmart Shoppers,” a man with a nametag by the front says. “Please stay where you are. The lights will be back on. It might take a while for your station to reboot. Please be patient.”

We wait. The lights come back on. Nothing reboots. The lights go back off again.

“Oooooh,” everybody says again, but shorter.

Then the lights come back on again, but still nothing reboots. I look at my 20 pair of new socks. I look at my credit card, still in my hand. I look at my watch. It is almost 5 p.m. I am not going to have time to stop at the ARF benefit. I try to call my wife. The call will not go through.

“I have to leave,” I tell the cashier, and along with a few others who are bailing, walk back out for dinner, leaving my purchases. It is really raining hard now in the parking lot. I sit in my car. I try to call my wife. She was expecting me home to get ready for dinner and a show. But I still can’t get through. So I send her a text.

“I’m going to park at Main Beach and get a nap for 20 minutes there,” I write. “Then I’ll meet you at the Maidstone Inn.”

I try one more call. It’s to GeekHampton, and I get through. I apologize, and also give them my credit card number over the phone so I can pay my $29 fifteen-minute bill. They say don’t worry about it. You’re always welcome here.

And with that I drive back to East Hampton, park at Main Beach, set an alarm for 20 minutes on my cell phone, lean the front seat back and put my hat over my face so people won’t think I am dead, and head into my nap. To get in, I read a few pages on my Nook. I take it out and turn it on. I will read five or six pages of Winston Churchill’s Grand Alliance, the third book of his six-book series about World War II. I read one page, turn the page, and the book ends. It’s done. Imagine that. An 800-page book, and I get one final page. How am I supposed to get to sleep? Well, I can download the next book. Only takes a few minutes. But I can’t. There’s no wi-fi at the beach. Another catastrophe.

Well, I’ll make do. So this time, as I am falling asleep looking at Main Beach, I think about this shocking decision made three days ago by the East Hampton Village powers that be. In spite of no apparent public support and in spite of 50 people who came to a hearing two weeks ago and spoke against it, the powers that be passed a leash law for dogs. It is the first leash law in our Village, ever. Shame on them.

We had a wonderful old country dinner at the Maidstone Arms, a Swedish-run hotel and restaurant, and then walked to the play The Cripple of Inishmaan, set in 1934 in Ireland. It was an evening in Old Europe in the 1930s. Meatballs and lingonberry, gravlax and pickles, then a dark comedy in the round on a remote seafaring island off the Irish mainland all those years ago.

Among those I met there in the audience was Alec Baldwin, looking most dapper.

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