I met The Pol and his girlfriend in the Hamptons 40-odd summers ago.
I was a Brooklyn kid who didn’t even know how to drive when a high-profile city politician we called The Pol invited my brother Brian and me to The Pol’s wealthy father’s estate in Southampton.
My idea of going to the beach was storied Coney Island, the Poor Man’s Paradise, the place where the working people who are the teeming city of New York went in sweltering summers to cool off, scarf hot dogs, guzzle draft beer, and ride the amusements, and where macho guys with tattoos played hammer and bell games to win their gals kewpie dolls.
I’d been to Rockaway a few times, also known as the Irish Riviera, but you had to pay a double subway fare to get there, so it was pretty much off limits for Brooklyn mugs.
When we were living large one summer, my mother rented a bungalow for a week in Keansburg, NJ, which was like winning a Hawaiian vacation on a TV game show.
I’d heard about The Hamptons, but to me it was some mythical gold coast on the edge of the world, out there on the ass end of what we called “The Eyeland.” The Long Island Rail Road was as exotic to me as The Orient Express.
But, in the heady 1970s, we befriended this hip, young, handsome politician who wore a toupee as obvious as a top hat who secretly loved smoking pot. We joked that if he ever got tossed, he could hide his joints under his obvious toupee.
He was a fun guy whose liberal politics matched ours in the day of civil rights struggle and anti-Vietnam War protests and sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.
He called us up and asked if we could score him some weed, a phone call riddled with coded words like a back-channel line to the Kremlin. We assured him we could get him some, and he invited us out to his father’s house in Southampton.
When we reached Montauk Highway, driving through the small villages and towns under a massive blue sky, it was like we’d traveled to a foreign country. People drove brand new expensive cars, few people jaywalked, and the streets were so clean it made you want to take off your shoes before you walked on them.
We passed homes that looked like Hollywood sets, with long circular driveways, tennis courts, swimming pools, Jacuzzis, and guest houses, and the tallest hedges we’d ever seen — like castle walls of verdant foliage.
Then we arrived at The Pol’s father’s house I expected to see Jed Clampett, Granny, and Daisy Mae greet us at the door. My brother thought it was more Xanadu from “Citizen Kane” than “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
The Pol met us at the door with his smart, friendly, and beautiful girlfriend from a prominent family. The Pol invited us inside, showed us our guest rooms, and we gave him the grass that he couldn’t very well score himself the way we had on Hippie Hill in Prospect Park. We found the liquor cabinet on our own. Most of the scotch was older than us. Some of the wine was older than The Pol’s father.
The weekend was a glorious time of beer and weed — which I never liked because it made me paranoid — and delicious seafood prepared by a staff cook. We ate brunch in a high-end restaurant in town and later strolled the immaculate tan beach, talking politics and Watergate. We listened to live music at a deck party that night. We’d gone from the Poor Man’s Paradise of Coney Island to paradise itself.
Through it all, The Pol and his lady friend made a hand-holding, canoodling, loving couple. When she stripped to a bathing suit for a swim, The Pol declined. We joined her in the surf.
That weekend made me fall almost as fond of the Hamptons as that pair of beautiful people that seemed destined for the altar.
After that, we’d come out a few times a month, taking drives through the other beach towns, all the way out to Montauk Point.
In the city, we’d run into The Pol and his gal at trendy Manhattan night spots. He never even changed the style of the toupee to trick people into thinking his hair might be real.
Then I moved to Los Angeles to work for a newspaper and lost touch with The Pol.
In LA, I ran into The Pol’s girlfriend at a screening. I asked if she was with him. She said they’d broken up. I said I was sorry, that I always thought they’d get married.
She said she thought so too. Until one day on the beach in Southampton when she wanted to go for a swim. As usual, The Pol declined. She told me she swam out pretty far and then got caught in a rip current.
“I screamed for him,” she told me. “I flailed my arms. I screamed his name again. He didn’t budge. I swam with the current as two other guys dove in and headed my way. But I kept calling his name.”
She said The Pol stood there on the shore and shook his head and pointed at his toupee. The two strangers rescued her, helping her to the shore.
She paused and said, “The man I was going to marry refused to dive in to save me because he didn’t want anyone else to see him without his toupee.”
I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. After a pause, so did she.
I think of that love story every year when spring comes to the Hamptons.