Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Hamptons Weekend

To the run of the mill Vanity Fair reader (i.e. me), “The Hamptons”, that group of towns on the East End of Long Island, conjures up images of grand shingle style houses, social X-rays, and the more substantial Barefoot Contessa and her posse of gay friends. On further reflection, my mind wanders to the thoughts of the occasional Real Housewife behaving badly; Wall Street bigwigs filing frivolous lawsuits against their neighbors; and the best looking surfing cater waiters ever. When my old friends Susan and Sara invited me to visit them in their new house, I said—with alacrity even—“Count me in!”

The weekend started in New York City on the Hamptons Jitney, which, even with the name straight out of Petticoat Junction, is a modern luxury bus. The Hamptons Jitney is the antidote to the problem of sitting behind the wheel for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic the Long Island Expressway while you’re on your way to weekend fun. I can’t imagine Real Housewives taking it—they seem as if they’d go for stretch Hummers (insert sexual innuendo here) helicopters paid for with OPM (other people’s money).

The Hamptons Jitney is not at all like the Stone Harbor/Avalon jitney. That’s just an airport satellite parking area shuttle bus with a different paint job, no rack for luggage, and mood lighting.
The HJ is a full sized bus, and as buses go, it’s closer to a rock star bus than to a Greyhound. Each row is three seats across rather than the standard four. By making the seats larger and arranging them so, the impresario behind the HJ has attempted to solve two vital societal problems….manspreading into your neighbor’s seat and sitting next to someone with cooties.

"I'm glad I took my ennui meds; this wait is killing me."
The Jitney picked me and my fellow more glam than I passengers up on 40th St between Lexington and Third, right in front of the Shake Shack. There were about ten at our stop. No sooner had we stowed our bags in the bowels of the bus than we were on our way. Why hang out in a bus in front of the Shake Shack when there are bold faced names aching for your company in Water Mill and Amagansett?

My seat—reserved, of course—was right behind the driver. My seat mate was some old guy in what looked like off brand Nantucket reds and some sort of downish vest. It was a hot day; he must have circulation problems. In the two hours plus of our trip he never once acknowledged my presence with as much as a grunt. Perhaps I have cooties or was unconsciously manspreading. Note to self, the next time you ride the Hamptons Jitney, tie your knees together and wear more Axe.

His wife, in the seat across the aisle from him, was bookish in that retired art historian sort of way. I wouldn’t be shocked to hear that she reads the now late Jackie Collins after the old ball and chain falls asleep at night. Out of habit that she picked up in graduate school, my guess is that she does a number on the sex scenes with yellow highlighter. She was wearing large paisley scarf/blanket sort of thing that probably turns into a spinnaker if the Jitney runs out of fuel and has to resort to sail power.

As we inched through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, a stewardess (when is the last time you were on a bus that had a stewardess?) with a decidedly mittel European accent very politely informed us that we should refrain from using our cell phones, but if we had to, we were to limit it to three minutes. Shortly afterward she offered us a cornucopia of personal service, starting with a hot Handi-Wipe that had been sanitized for my protection. I wondered if the bus had a K-Tel Handi-Wipe Heater or if the wipes had just been left on a sunny windowsill.

Shortly afterward, she came by offering us the newspaper (NYT only, they were out of WSJ).Then a cold drink. The hot drink was next. That was followed by an energy bar. Then came the ear buds. And then finally, on her last trip by, she offered to come to your house to rearrange your sock drawer.

Though I accepted most of the drinks and snacks, entertainment wise, I stuck to looking out the window since I’d just finished The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s bio of Robert Moses and here we were cruising along on Moses-built highways, passing the site of the 1964 Worlds Fair and other Moses-era landmarks. I was hoping to see people who were still pissed off about an expressway going through their backyard. No such luck on that score.

After a couple of hours we got to Bridgehampton, de-bussed and walked the few blocks to S and S’s house.

With Martha, David, Chris, and Bruce in our misspent early middle age. Back in the day when you took photos with a camera.
I’ve been to the Hamptons once, 18 years ago, to celebrate one of those birthdays that ends in zero. A friend who was out of town lent some chums from our high school lunch table her house. We didn’t do all that much except lounge and loiter by the pool. It was a great time.

On this trip I’m more jaded, and officially older, even though I lie about my age in a dating situation depending on the light level in the room and whether the other guy is legally blind or not.

My hosts, S and S, have a fantastic house, handsomely designed and the polar opposite of one of those Jersey shore houses that incorporates every architectural element known to man. Those places tend to fill the lot like a guy squeezing into clothes he’s outgrown. S and S's house was just the opposite of that; designed thoughtfully and with just a touch of humor. Were Goldilocks an architecture critic, she would pronounce their digs as “just right”.

My new best friend, Leo the Wonder Dog.
After unpacking and meeting Leo the Wonder Dog, we went over to G and R’s house (also fantastic) for tacos and poker with another two of their friends, including the first person I’ve ever met named Doreen. My father would have called her a kick in the ass, which he meant as a high compliment.  I’m not my father, a whiz at poker (and poking her), and as a result, I lost every single hand. Perhaps on my next trip to Vegas I should learn how to play cards instead of hanging out in the gift shop at the Atomic Testing Museum.

S. and I started Saturday early-ish by taking Leo the Wonder Dog slash best golden doodle ever to the beach for some exercise. It was the start of a beautiful day but there was hardly a soul at the beach. L and his two dog pals, William and the dog whose name I’ve forgotten, love the beach. They were so much fun to watch as they ran and dug in the sand and chased a ball. S. and William's owner and I talked about the Pope's visit to America.

I got to demonstrate my central Pennsylvania sang-froid when an otherwise lovely dog mom of a certain age plus some who'd joined us took off her wrap in preparation for a dip in the ocean. While she was of the age and mileage for a black one piece suit, she was wearing a white bikini that didn’t leave much to the imagination. Technically, not anything. At all. Yowza!

But as fashion transgressions go, well, there were just four of us there, counting the distant (physically, dunno about emotionally) professional dog handler for an absent plutocrat whose dogs aren’t allowed to play with others. And none of us at that exact moment was on duty for Fashion Police. Yes, it wasn’t the suit I would have picked for her, but in a way I have to hand it to her for doing her own thing.

After our tip to the beach, we had an unexpected and delightful visit from Connie, my host of 18 years ago—she just lives down the street from S. and S. C. invited us to a surfing demo, but we opted for an outing that would not involve asking people if they had a woodie and did they wax it.

The museum was designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron.
A little later we went to the Parrish Art Museum. It looks rather like a big (and expensive in a minimalist way) dogtrot house. It’s as slickly designed as any prime location big city Apple store but fortunately lacking the crowds of votaries waiting for the next release if the iVibrator. While the museum has a notable collection of work by William Merit Chase, I think there were only two of his works hanging in the gallery.

There was lots of modern stuff not really to my taste. I did, however, like Tara Donovan’s Slinky® creations but was amused that the museum sold off-brand Slinky®s in the gift shop.

I knew that Slinky®s were the pride and joy of Hollidaysburg, PA but I’d forgotten 99% of the story about the owner of the company running away to join a cult in South America. I’m sure the woman in the gift shop would have been fascinated by it before running away to join a cult in South America to get away from annoying patrons like me.

Looking at all those Slinky®s and trying to remember the jingle can make the most indefatigable cultural tourist peckish, so we headed over to Sag Harbor for some accessory browsing and a delish al fresco lunch with a dessert sized helping of eye candy. Oh and an actual bold faced name and permanent A-Lister was tying on the feedbag just a couple of tables away but she didn't come by the table to ask for autographs or anything. We passed a crime scene on the way out of town but S and I were too busy brainstorming about our idea to make a fortune with a Quonset hut restoration business to go into full Hercule Poirot meets CSI: Hamptons mode.

After a power nap (I was vacationing after all) S and I headed out in her vintage Volkswagen Beetle to hit a vegetable stand for corn and the supermarket for the other fixings for dinner. If I were to say that driving that old Beetle was a highlight of the weekend, I might seem like a toddler who gets just as much enjoyment out of the box his Christmas gifts came in as the gifts themselves. So let me just say that it was really, really, really fun to drive, even if you did have to stand on the brake with one foot, open the door and drag the other on the pavement, and release a drag ‘chute all at the same time in order to get the thing to stop.

Not only were the vegetables nice, but the spelling and typography were excellent too.

The produce gave the Garden State's best a run for its money.

Once we had the corn and other foodstuffs for dinner, we picked up G and R to go to a reception at the Madoo Conservancy, a stunning garden down the road in Sagaponack by “artist, gardener, and writer” Robert Dash.

There was no bourbon in sight, it was a red or white wine sort of thing—a real missed opportunity for the brosé marketers. It wasn’t one of those parties where you needed to know a lot about sports to chat up guys, and had I been better at chatting up guys, I am sure I would have met some interesting folks who knew The Barefoot Contessa. My hosts did introduce me to an amusingly over the top ball gown designer and his partner the charming lighting and home accessories designer with a decidedly silent film star air about him. There was a brief speech by the director of the property thanking everyone for their support.

The standout outfit of the evening was worn by the guy in the three sizes too small fleece version of a rowing blazer…blue with contrasting trim topped off with Ray Ban Wayfarers. He looked like a great British sausage. Perhaps he was the Ambassador from Hormel-on-Thames, England? Apparently the person in his household in charge of saying “You’re not going out looking like that, are you?” was out of town that day.

After the reception, we enjoyed a tasty repast of burgers and farms stand corn, just as Leo was enjoying a meal of one of my flip flops. I think he agreed that Rainbow makes the best flip flops on the market.

Early Sunday morning I was on the Long Island Railroad headed for NYC and my Amtrak train home. I listened to a woman in the row ahead of me yammer incessantly on her phone about her weekend trip. If my life were as boring as hers sounded, I’d stick my head in the oven. I watched backyard pools give way to backyard above-ground pools and then to backyards with no pools and finally no yards at all as we neared New York City.

Perhaps I just saw the Potemkin Hamptons, but the closest I saw to wretched excess was four stop signs at one convoluted intersection. It was flip-flops on the ground for 36 hours and didn’t see a single person drink Cristal out of a Manolo, Jimmy Choo, or even last season’s glass slipper. (If someone would like to invite me back for that, I'll clear my calendar pronto!)

OK, kale juice was pretty expensive at the gourmet grocery store around the corner, but as a card carrying member of the Anti-Kale Even-If-Its-High-In-Anti-Oxidants League I wasn’t going to be buying that anyway.

There were some large houses with drop dead gorgeous landscaping, but as far as "OMG would you look at that!" was concerned, my weekend was more than a quart low. Oh I almost forgot, we did go by a crime scene--now just a vacant lot--that was featured in an article in Vanity Fair, but that was it in the tabloid fodder department. I didn’t have a Barefoot Contessa sighting, or even more disappointing, one of the looksome guys she hangs with when Jeffrey’s not around. Oh well...they didn’t have a Wandering Wahoo sighting either.

In the end, it was too brielf trip to a gorgeous part of the country: it’s really easy to see why so many people like the place. My hosts were great, their friends lots of fun, and the flip flop eating dog was one of the best skinny dipping companions I’ve had in a long time. (Did I forget to mention that?)  I hope it’s not another eighteen years before I’m invited back.


  1. No label in your list for the circle-R Slinky? Howsomever, despite this oversight, an excellent adventure tale. I feel as if I had a vacation myself. (And meanwhile, how incredibly historic and badass of you to have driven on some of Mr. Moses's controversial byways.Though I guess the enraged inhabitants waving pitchforks have all died out by now...) Woohoo, Wahoo!

  2. Duh, no wonder very few Slinky circle R aficionados have visited my this page. In re Robt Moses, I guess this makes me an experiential learner. Or something.