“Orwell Does the Hamptons”
By Jeffrey Lord
Yes, those Hamptons. The bucolic, upscale precincts of Eastern Long Island that provide so much fodder for the tabloids, particularly in the golden days of summer. The place where at any given moment the media’s A-list of rich and powerful celebs can be found shopping, sipping, and supping. The home of Steven Spielberg’s manse with the dinosaur weather vane, a sly reference to his hit film Jurassic Park. The space shared at any given moment by such as Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld or Mr. and Mrs. Billy Joel or Ms. Martha Stewart or that well-known Amagansett resident Sir Paul McCartney. If you have a hankering for celebrities, charity, and softball, this is the place to be for the every-August Writers and Artists softball game that features Alec Baldwin in the outfield with Carl Bernstein at the plate and Rudy Giuliani calling the balls and strikes.
Yet there’s something disturbing going on in the Hamptons lately, cautionary tales not of celebrity but freedoms lost and privacy invaded.
As it happens, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Hamptons and elsewhere on Eastern Long Island purely out of the accident of birth to two parents who are natives of the area. This has bequeathed to me a large and beloved extended family spread over Long Island’s two “forks” that is decidedly not among the super-rich or super-famous. Long before the Hamptons morphed from a collection of sleepy villages into some sort of cross between Beverly Hills and an international resort, this meant a lifetime of summers, holidays, spring and fall vacations in a geographic location that is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the nation, getting to know every beach and back road with the intimacy that is only possible over decades.
WHICH BRINGS ME to cautionary tale number one, an incident involving the namesake of a much treasured Long Island institution called Dan’s Papers. Founded in 1960 by a young Dan Rattiner, the paper is free, found weekly in just about every commercial institution imaginable from grocery stores to gas stations. Chock full of news stories about the South Fork (which stretches to Montauk Point, harbors the Hamptons and borders the Atlantic Ocean) and the North Fork (the area that reaches to Orient Point and borders the Long Island Sound — my personal favorite where I hang my hat in decidedly un-Hamptons surroundings since I’ve seen lots of celebrities and have more fun with family), it blends local news, commentaries and restaurant reviews with schedules for art events, movies, fishing updates, used book sales, and the happenings at local vineyards. This is added to lots of real estate ads, info on where to pick up a good second-hand boat and, but of course, celebrity news of the local variety. (One of the more recent read “…Jerry Seinfeld was involved in a car accident on Skimhampton Road in East Hampton last week.” Note here to worried Seinfeld fans…the brakes failed, the car flipped, but he was OK.) Dan’s became such a successful institution, now stuffed with expensive ads, that Dan himself (the spitting image of Sir Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park) was eventually bought out. He still writes for the paper, though. Surely one of the most prolific writers on the planet, his byline is liberally salted throughout each issue. A few years back I had the pleasure of spending an evening in his company at a barbeque, and I understand he is now happily engaged, has a dog named Moo, and a new book that will surely be a great beach read. In the Hamptons it has even been favorably blurbed by Spectator favorite Tom Wolfe.
To our tales.
It seems that back at the end of March, Dan, his fiancee, and Moo set out of a late Saturday afternoon to perform the usual chores. Pick up the eye glasses, stop at the dry cleaners etc. A quick drive from house to the center of East Hampton village, carefully parking the car on the street (relatively easy in the off-season) and Dan was on his way for the eye glasses. Retrieved, he emerges for the short walk to the dry cleaners when he notices a policeman carefully studying Dan’s new Chevy Tahoe. Approaching, he is addressed by name (the cop seemed not to recognize Dan yet knew his name). He notices two police cars are now stopped, blocking one lane of traffic. Within a minute or so Dan is told: “You are lucky I caught you before you drove off. We’re only going to impound your car. You won’t be arrested.”
He won’t be arrested?!!! Hello! For what?
Says the cop: “There was a lapse in your insurance. We now have radar sensors on the roofs of police cars. And we can check the license plates of every car on the road just by driving by. Your registration was suspended. The insurance had lapsed. The plates have to be taken off and sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles. And the car goes to the impound.”
Suffice to say, knowing all his paperwork was in the Tahoe and was completely current — and then producing same for the cop — Dan was astonished. Yes, the paperwork certainly did seem in order, but, well, too bad. No go. Literally. If Dan got behind the wheel of the Tahoe now and tried to drive away he would be arrested. “So we’re just dumped out here on the street?” asks an incredulous Dan.
Yep. Moo too.