From the moment I sat down at the bar in Sag Harbor’s American Hotel, I felt exactly like orphan Oliver Twist in Dickens’ novel when he asks for a little more gruel. Instead of getting hit on the back of my head with a ladle, the bartender offered me a glass of Chardonnay. I would have preferred a whole chilled bottle rather than one glass of wine but with only a hundred bucks left in my bank account until the next paycheck, $10was as much as I could afford. Draining the glass, despite my limited cash flow I felt better immediately.
I was in the Hamptons on the cheap. My wallet was empty but it was OK—I was crashing with a friend who rents the first floor of a house in Sag Harbor. I rode the Long Island Railroad for $14.50 each way , the cheaper but perfectly acceptable mode of transport, instead of taking a helicopter or riding the Jitney, the bus for the elite. Too broke to take a real vacation all summer, here was my chance to get away from it all, if only for the weekend. A mere few hours away from the city, it was the perfect place to lay on the beach by day, tune out at a yoga workshop, and socialize by night. If I had to impose on the largesse of the rich and the powerful, so be it. My friend drives a Jag, her boyfriend owns a 40-foot sailboat, and they both had plenty of leisure time. If I were lucky, they’d take me out for dinner and there’d be some parties to attend, none of which would cost a cent.
Just like in Manhattan, the middle-class—that is, me—can no longer afford the Hamptons, a mecca for celebrities and ostentatious yuppies to show off their expensive toys. Making a big splash into the pools of the Hamptons ain’t easy. If your last name is Hilton, it’s a swan dive but if it’s Grubman, it’ll be a big fat belly flop. “Did I miss Sean “Puffy” Combs’ White Party?” I asked my friend about one of the area’s major power brokers. But it seems P. Diddy’s 8th annual White Party, one of the events of the summer, would be held in St. Tropez this year. What a shame. Loser that I am, I’d already missed the seven previous galas. Nor did I run into residents like Martha Stewart, Alec Baldwin, Billy Joel or Howard Stern.
You can find the Hamptons at its worst with all the trappings of super-materialism and Page Six mentality at its most popular nightclub, the Pink Elephant in Southampton. The place calls itself the “top celebrity and bottle service VIP club in New York catering to socialites, jet setters and Europeans…” Of course, we didn’t get in. The delusional doormen thought the joint was Studio 54, forcing rejects like us to languish at the velvet ropes while “elite” trailer trash like Jessica Simpson, whose bodyguards recently beat up a paparazzo, are welcomed with open arms. “I’m wearing Prada and I still can’t even get in,” a woman at the ropes wailed.
So we switched gears and hung out at the bar in the American Hotel, a yuppie stronghold crammed with WASPs nicknamed Muffy and Biff with rotund dudes wearing Brooks Brothers shirts and suspenders, smoking cigars. Maybe I’d finally meet a real man instead of those guys I’ve been dating from the Internet who want to go all the way an hour after we’ve met. Or who ask to borrow money from me a few weeks later and who, when the bill arrives, tell me they forgot to go to the cash machine.
I knew the lay of the land since back in the early ’90s, my friend and I shared a quaint carriage house in Bridgehampton when rents were low enough for a single girl’s budget. We competed for the cute guys in all the bars that summer, hanging out on employee’s night with the waiters, chefs and sailors who knew how to have fun. We were slumming it up at Murph’s Tavern in Sag Harbor one night when a bipolar carpenter claiming he was a sculptor scribbled his number for me on a damp bar napkin. That’s how I wound up marrying (and divorcing) the only poor man in the Hamptons.
My girlfriend had better sense: one of her trick questions to potential suitors was, “What does your roommate do?” Renters weren’t owners, which meant their bank balances were too low. “If they have to work on Fridays or be back in the office by Monday morning, they’re not successful,” she used to say. And she’d move on to the next one. And here she was now, with a dashing boyfriend who spent the whole damn week with her sailing on his yacht.
The troubles of the world seemed far way in the land of Mercedes and potato fields but if you scratch below the surface, there are lots of people out in the Hamptons who aren’t just sitting around drinking Dom Perignon. For example, this past April a teenage neo-Nazi sympathizer chased three Latino classmates in East Hampton with a machete and a revving chain saw. And police in East Hampton Village expelled day laborers last fall from the train station because of complaints. Lest we forget, Indians were driven off their land on the South Fork by the Puritans years back.
Despite the love-hate relationship, the needs of the rich and the beautiful are met by the service people and laborers in town. The townies, mostly scrappy Irish and Italians, call the summer people “cidiots.” Don’t forget the recent brouhaha over America’s favorite supermodel and longtime Hamptons mainstay Christie Brinkley whose fourth husband, Peter Cooke, was caught fooling around with a Long Island Lolita, a Southampton townie who was a sales clerk in a local toy store. Although Cooke tried to entice his girlfriend with a Nissan Maxima, she left town. That’s what you get when a local tangles with a transplant.
We ended our night at a party held at a tastefully decorated house on Hedgerow Lane thrown by a gay couple. “We sell pretty pictures to rich people,” one of the men confided about their business. Gays flock to the Hamptons since they’ve got the disposable income you need there. A friend of mine—personal assistant to a wealthy gay twosome in Southampton—told me about a hot Latino hustler who serviced men at parties while his dad double-parked out in the front yard, waiting for his son to do his thing. Then there was the party in Southampton with a midget holding a mirror over his head with lines of cocaine, ready to be snorted by the guests. We didn’t notice anything amusing like that, but the drinks were served by “eye candy,” breathtakingly hunky, bare-chested waiters and poolboys chosen for their ability to look pretty wearing tight white cargo pants toting trays with their biceps bulging and chests rippling. The eye candy was the most popular dish of the night. Looking was free and we wanted to sample the sweets, but it was getting late. In the end, everyone who’s anyone knows the Hamptons has become a cliche except maybe the high tax bracket yupsters who continue to summer there, no matter how high the real estate becomes. As Yogi Berra would’ve said, “Nobody goes anymore. It’s too crowded.” n