“The Great Good Place”
By Cindy Hasz
In the summer of 2012, she first came to theHamptons. She was by that time, a
middle-aged woman. Caring for a fragile elder didn’t leave her much time for
solitary walks along the famous beaches. No time to sail the thousand jeweled
inlets and bays that sparkled through the windshield of the car during the daily
rounds to appointments and various resorts unknown to her.
She noticed the white butterflies of July ubiquitous around the lime green ivy
and deep green pines. She watched from inside the summer cottage as the mystic
deer ebbed and flowed like tides around the edges of the lush, manicured lawns.
She wished she could explore the wild places of “sea spray.” She wanted to
see the magical light she heard so much about and feel for herself Edward Albee’s
“great, good place.” Feel the power and gentleness of sun and sea and sand. She
read the Bohemian history of how artists, writers and other creatures of interest
had migrated to the area as if called here by something.
Something magnetic and beguiling, like sirens or mermaids. By what F. Scott
Fitzgerald called the “fresh, green breast of the new world.”
It impressed her that Pollock and deKooning had thrived here. More interesting to
her though were the earlier luminaries of theHamptons, like Walt Whitman and
Harriet Beecher Stowe, who helped turn public sentiment against slavery. Jonathan
Edwards who preached inEast Hampton’s Presbyterian Church in 1746 at Samuell
Samson Occom, the 26 year old Mohegan Indian preacher, poet and
writer who came toEast Hamptonsfrom Conneticut to be the first schoolmaster
also became known as the “Father of Native American Literature.”
So much fire, passion, purity and beauty in one place.
Not to mention money.
She realized she’d have never been able to come here on her own and she was
properly grateful to have been invited. In that sense she was not unlike the
young black man at the airport who’d just smiled when she’d asked him if he’d
ever been to theHampton’s. She was clearly only “the help” in spite of her
professional degree. A woman without an ivy league pedigree or a portfolio but
she didn’t feel disenfranchised in the least. She was “west coast,” working class
rubbing shoulders with “east coast” one percenters.
The inequalities embedded in the world left her mystified but not bitter.
She didn’t feel resentful of Ralph Lauren’s beach house or one of the surreal
estates floating in the idyllic green haze of endless summer lawns. She felt
whole, even rich without any of the outer trappings of wealth. She viewed the
mansions of the rich and famous with only mild interest. Much more interesting to
her was the lush bounty of the earth, water and sky; the democracy of magic
freely flowing to any child of God who finds themselves on this wondrous island
She wondered where the original children of this land were. The Shinnecock, the
only remaining descendents of the Algonquin tribes who lived here ten thousand
years ago. They certainly weren’t in the art galleries downtown or at the seaside
resorts or chic cafes.
Reading about them after she was home on the west coast again, she learned that
the Shinnecock numbering 1,292 last count, live in mobile homes inSouth Hampton.
Having just recently been recognized as a tribe by the federal government they
are pursuing plans for a gaming casino in theHamptons. The non-natives of the
island are reportedly “growing restless” as visions of the gambling proletariat
from theBronxhaunt their refined sensibilities.
I suppose they must fear busloads of people from the city coming in to overwhelm
their communities. They must fear upsetting the natural balance of ecosystems and
overwhelming existing infrastructure and resources. Understandable objections
though some would say quite selective and even elitist.
The native keepers of the land say they simply want to restore economic balance.
The balance lost them when their lands were taken. The balance lost them when the
land and sea started belonging to strangers. When they themselves were weaned
from the fresh green breast and set aside in aluminum apartheid.
Strange how the calculus of justice, of economic freedom for a people left behind
may just come on the spin of a roulette wheel or with the roll of the dice. How
anarchistic. How Pollock.
I imagine that the Shinnecock have no interest in such abstractions. I imagine
that they just want to live well, share in their island’s abundance and
see their children have opportunity again.
I imagine that the Shinnecock just want to be powerful contributors to the
quality of life for all the communities of the island.
I imagine that both the affluent and the indigenous of theHamptonswill be able
to resolve their conflicts and find a way to achieve both economic and ecological
Surely a way will be found to honor the traditions and the dreams of all peoples
living here. There is enough in this “great, good place” to go around.