Back in the last half of the 20th century, the Hamptons was not a world occupied by the rich and famous. It was a world of local people — local people who hoped that a lot of tourists would come out in the summer season to put money in their pockets. Sometimes the summer was good. Sometimes not.
I founded Dan’s Papers in that era as a free summer newspaper. In the winter, I would go somewhere warm. But when my kids got old enough to have to go to school, I couldn’t do that anymore. Because of that, I became a full-time local person, and had to struggle through the cold, hard winter, like everybody else.
After a few years, having begun to publish once a month in the wintertime, I decided the newspaper should have a little fun. Beginning in January, I began publicizing a big event we would hold in March. I called it the “I Survived the Winter Party.” It would be for the locals. And we’d do things that the summer people imagined we would do if we locals had a big end-of-winter party. A beard-growing competition. A chili-baking competition. A talent show for tap dancers, banjo players and singers. A bouncy castle. A beauty contest. A clam chowder competition. A jump rope exhibition and a hot tub.
That year, we held the first such event in what is now Bay Street Theater, but was then a disco closed for the season that reopened for us that one night. Besides all the aforementioned, we had boxing gloves and fat sumo wrestler strap-on padding that could be Velcroed onto willing grammar school children offered up by their parents. These children would smack at each other aimlessly on a gym mat until one or another would fall down. We also sold “I Survived the Winter” T-shirts.
The party got underway around 6 p.m. It was over by 9 p.m. And everybody had a great time.
This column is not about that first party, however. Nor is it about the second or third. I wish to describe my own personal experience for the fourth, which because I had run the first three parties at various other venues, and because I was the boss, I told Joel, our office manager, that it was now his turn to put the party together. He accepted the challenge and said he’d make it a bit more upscale, if that was all right with me.
“Your job will be just to show up,” he said.
I basked in the glow of not having to do much on March 19, 1983, the day of the party. A big snowstorm had arrived in the morning. Would we cancel? Not my problem. I did make a phone call around noon (this was before cellphones) and learned it was still being held, so as night fell, I walked out into the blizzard, got in my car, and in the dark slowly drove over toward Sag Harbor through the unplowed roads to where the party would be.
But where exactly was it? I was pretty sure it was at the Harbor View up by Long Beach, though it might be at the Harborside, which was a mile away in downtown. I’d go to Harbor View. And if the joint wasn’t jumping, it would be at the other, just 10 minutes away.
Well, 30 or 40 cars were parked in and around Harbor View and music was blaring from a band inside. So this indeed was the place.
Checking my heavy coat in a cloakroom by the entrance, I strode quickly into the main ballroom where all the action was taking place. The crowd was bigger than the Survival parties we’d held in the past. I was very pleased. Some people I knew waved me over to their table and I waved back and went over and sat. There was an emcee and a rock-and-roll singer with a five-piece band thumping out something by the Rolling Stones while people wheeled around the dance floor. I got introduced to some of the other people at the table. All knew about the paper, but didn’t know me. They were glad to meet me. One asked me, “How are you related?” and I shrugged, not knowing what they meant.
Oddly, I hadn’t seen anybody from the paper at the event yet. Probably, I thought, they were in the back with the caterer. They’d come around.
Thirty minutes later, with two rum and Cokes in me — good to warm up a cold night in a storm — the music stopped, there was a drum roll, and the emcee spoke into the microphone.
“Will Jill and John please come up to the front and cut the cake?” he said.
Yup. Wrong party.
I got up from the table, panic-stricken. “Where you going, Dan?” somebody said. “I’ll be back,” I said, which, of course, was a lie.
My destination was the cloakroom attendant. No sense making a big deal out of this.
“Do you have a pay phone?” I asked.
“Yes, we do,” she said, motioning over at all the heavy coats jammed into a small closet. I looked puzzled.
“It’s in the back of the closet,” she said.
My final memory of this event is this: I am sitting on the floor in the cloakroom closet. I’ve managed to part the coats enough to put a quarter in the pay phone slot and call Harbor View. But there’s not enough space amidst the coats to actually speak to anybody unless I slide down to the floor — remember this was before cellphones. So there I am, with snow and ice dripping on my head from the fur coats of those who had come late to the party, and I am waiting as somebody is fetching Joel to get him over to the pay phone at the Harborside to tell him I’m on my way.
I get him.
“Where are you?” Joel asked anxiously. “Everybody’s waiting for you. And what’s all that noise?”