I have been setting up little half hour-long encampments all over town since August 1, where I can read chapters of my new book, In the Hamptons 4Ever, aloud to whoever wants to stroll by to hear it. Each chapter is about a specific individual who lived in the Hamptons during my time here and with whom I’ve had an encounter of one sort of another. As I have been editing and publishing Dan’s Papers for 55 years now, I have quite a collection of stories.
This new book is called 4Ever because it’s the fourth in the series. The first, published by Random House in 2008, got rave reviews in The New York Times, and one entire chapter from it was printed in its entirety in Newsday. At that time, when that book came out on Memorial Day, I embarked on the same pilgrimage that I am on now.
If I could walk into Hyde Park in London and stand on a soapbox and talk to whoever stopped to listen, I would do that too.
Here in the Hamptons, there are laws about drawing a crowd to an event like this. If there is a large crowd you need to have a permit. It would require that you indemnify the town from harm. It would require you to describe police and traffic plans. It would require you to describe parking facilities. But that’s if you have a gathering of more than 50 people.
In the seven years since 2008, I’ve never had more than 50 people come to a reading. I’ve had 20, sometimes 25, more often maybe 10 or, uh, five, or uh, fewer. Nobody came to a reading I advertised that was held at the front entrance of Home Sweet Home in East Hampton one year. I debated whether I should read it anyway. In the end, I didn’t.
This new hardcover book from the State University of New York Press made its public debut on August 1. So I have had several readings. Three have been in bookstores—two in BookHampton Southampton and East Hampton and one at the Two Sisters bookstore in Montauk. In addition, I’ve been out in public three times now. The first outdoor reading took place in front of the main entrance of the Southampton Historical Society on Meeting House Lane. I read a chapter about a Southampton clock repair man, named Morris Welte, who fixed an antique mantle clock that others said was beyond repair. He refused to charge me for it. Said it was his pleasure to fix it.
Last Friday at 5, I pulled off the road to read on the grass apron of the eastbound right-of-way of the Montauk Highway at the entrance to East Hampton Village in front of Ron Perelman’s house. The chapter was about Tina Fredericks, the famous East End real estate broker who sold him that house many years ago. It would be a memorial to her, because one month ago she passed away, in her 90s, although I don’t think she wanted anybody to know that was how old she was.
I had just set up my poster, microphone stand, portable amplifier and microphone there beside the road about ten to five—this is last Friday, and the traffic was moving at a crawl—when suddenly a muscle-bound man in an unmarked white van drove down the shoulder of the road to stop where I was. He got out of the car and strolled over to me.
“Do you know you are on private property?” he asked. “You’ll have to get off.”
We had a polite discussion about where the right-of-way ended and where Mr. Perelman’s property began, and he persisted until he was raising his voice and I was raising mine. In the middle of my retort, he got back into his car and roared off, almost getting into an accident as he muscled his way into the traffic. From there he almost immediately made a left turn onto Daniels Hole Road, headed, I believe, for the town police station.
He did not return. The reading went on.
Afterwards, proud to defend my rights to a public street as a taxpayer, I drove over to the East Hampton Airport to watch the planes come in. It’s a huge melee there of giant corporate jets trying to get in before the curfew, which is the recent addition to town law due to the the tremendous noise made by this facility. Here there were a lot of rich folks striding through the airport to meet up with black SUVs and taxicabs either circling around or parking illegally out front because the lot is full to overflowing. I parked illegally, too, so I could write this.
Dan Rattiner will read “Elaine Benson,” a chapter from In the Hamptons 4Ever, at the Southampton Arts Center on Saturday, August 29, at 5 p.m. during the Dan’s Papers Literary Prize Salon.