My new book In the Hamptons 4Ever is just out and I am promoting it by reading the chapters in it in the places where they occurred. Each chapter is a complete story, about a specific person or event in the Hamptons.
Last Friday, September 11, I read a chapter about a week-long summer festival in Montauk that took place in the last week of August many years ago. Naturally, I chose to read this chapter in the very center of town, on the town green.
Unfortunately—unlike that long ago festival—because of a mixup, we didn’t properly get the word out in the local media about the place and time. Still, I decided to hold it anyway. I’ve done eight other readings around the Hamptons in the five weeks since the book hit the shelves and I’ve drawn as many as a dozen people to some of the others. Maybe some people would show up.
At the appointed time, Friday at 5, one person showed up. I suppose I could have called it off, but she wanted to hear the chapter and I wanted to speak it so I did. We moved to the bandstand in the center of the green, and there, with my big poster showing my book cover, my pile of books and my microphone and stand, I read.
As I started reading, I realized I had really forgotten just how awful that long ago festival was. The moral of the chapter was, we thought, you can’t compete with the beach in the summertime during the day. At the time, I was 21 years old, just home from college and this would be my second year running my new newspaper in that town. (It only ran in Montauk in the early years.) What happened was that, in the spring, the President of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce, impressed I’d started a newspaper at such an early age, asked me to run the festival.
Before it began, I put posters up all around town, took delivery of more than 20 trophies, some of them 3 feet tall, and made arrangements for the seven events on the seven different days of “Sea Fair Week” it was called. I put the trophies on a table in the garage at my parents’ house until the first day. I also heavily promoted “Sea Fair Week” in the newspaper. I sent out press releases to the New York City newspapers, the two Long Island newspapers and the radio station that had just begun in Sag Harbor. I even rigged up a Jeep with a bullhorn speaker on the roof and drove around Montauk each day an hour before the event to round up the crowds. All events began at 1 p.m. There would be a tennis double matches round robin at the Montauk Manor one day. Another day we’d have a bicycle race. Another day we’d have a contest to see who could hit a golf ball the farthest at the Montauk Downs Country Club. The people at the Montauk Airport would have friends who owned antique aircraft fly in for the day, and they would fly them around and the tourists would vote on which was the best. We had a horse show. And at the Montauk Surf Club we would crown Miss Montauk.
So I read this chapter. I really had forgotten how elaborate and disastrous all this was.
We set the three trophies up on a bench at the Montauk Manor tennis courts. Nobody came, so I gave them to the tennis pro and the ball boys.
One person showed up for the bicycle race but she didn’t have a bicycle. There were two trophies. I gave one trophy to the owner of the Montauk Bike Shop to induce him to lend a bike to the lady, and when she went off and came back, gave the grand prize trophy to her.
Nobody showed up for the golf ball hitting competition, so we rounded up four people having lunch in the dining room there between the front and back nine, had them hit balls for awhile and then gave out the trophies to them.
Mr. King at the Montauk Airport had gotten seven friends to fly their antique planes in for the day. They flew around. I personally decided who would get the trophies. He stood there with his arms folded across his chest glaring at me.
The next day, at noon, a friend who was driving through town in the Jeep said that over the loud speaker I had said “be sure to miss the fishing contest today if you can.” I swore I never said that. Later he said I said it again.
One guy showed up at the Montauk dock in the fishing village, sat down at the end of it, dropped a line but he never caught anything. I gave him the winning trophy for showing up.
Lots of people came to the horse show, so that went well, but it was really just because on that day every summer the ranch held a horse show.
And then, for the grand finale, lots of people did show up for the Miss Montauk beauty contest, but as I walked around talking to everyone, I realized that practically everybody there was from a motel or hotel they owned in the town. I had appealed to them through the Chamber to find members of the staff to enter. A waitress from the Lakeside Inn won.
Anyway, midway through the reading of this chapter, it suddenly dawned on me that, for whatever reason, my turnout at this reading closely resembled what had gone on 50 years earlier in that town. I thought, is this déjà vu? No, I don’t think that is what déjà vu is. I think this was just a bad case of you never learn, Dan, do you?
So I say thank you Gerry Moran, from Plandome and Ditch Plains, for coming to my reading, and if I couldn’t give you anything more than a copy of the book autographed to you, I hope that this mention of you and your hometowns in this newspaper otherwise brightens your day.
Also, for the rest of you, here is the schedule for the readings of these stories in In the Hamptons 4Ever during the next two weeks.
On Saturday, September 19, 5 p.m. inside Starbucks or outside the door leading to the parking lot, Bridgehampton I’ll be reading “Hampton Subway.”
Dan’s Papers has run the Hampton Subway Newsletter every week for six years. The Subway doesn’t exist, but this is the story of its founding in 1932 anyway, when stolen subway construction material was brought out from New York City and put underground here. Though the actual subway did not open then, it was rediscovered in 2007 when they were digging down to clear dirt from a superfund site. All cleaned up, it has been running ever since.
On Sunday, September 20, at 5 p.m., Southampton Railroad Station I’ll be reading “Ron Ziel.”
Ron Ziel was a railroad buff who was second in command at Dan’s Papers for its first 15 years. This chapter recounts many of the adventures we had together.
On Saturday, September 26, at 5 p.m., Main Beach East Hampton, I’ll read “Memorial Day.”
This recounts the day I was sitting in my car facing the ocean at East Hampton Main Beach, writing a story and being unaware of my surroundings when I became dimly aware of a marching band, a ceremony, the firing of rifles. What was that?
On Sunday, September 27, at 5 p.m., on the Town Green in front of Hook Mill, I’ll read the chapter “Fannie Gardiner.”
Fannie Gardiner was a major town character in East Hampton’s Bonacker community for many years. Born into the Gardiner family, she renounced its great wealth for a more personal life among the locals. This encounter involves her attempts to stop me from setting up an illegal ship-to-shore radio station on the roof of my house.