The Famous and the Forgotten
By Thomas Renker
I I wonder how many of us remember Friday the 13th in 1995, or the Saturday morning that
followed, or the name Ray Johnson. He seems to have been an interesting character. Google
him if you like.
Johnson was not the type of A-list celebrity artist who now, in 2012, might like to be seen in
Sag Harbor, maybe on a yacht moored at the wharf where people used to gather to fish. I
wouldn’t remember him either, or associate him with the years I lived in Noyack and North
Haven, if I hadn’t been travelling intoSag Harboron the morning of January 14, with my five-
year-old son and three-year-old daughter. We were on one of our small Saturday morning
adventures. That day, we were going to take a walk under the bridge, but were stopped by police
and had to go home. We settled for the trails behind the North Haven Village Hall.
We did walk the beach under the bridge on Sunday morning and found an empty bag of Lays
potato chips. Having heard the news sometime on Saturday, we imagined that the bag had fallen
out of Mr. Johnson’s backpack sometime after he leaped from the bridge, died in the icy cold
water, and washed up on shore.
II From theNew YorkTimes archives:
Body of Spalding Gray Found; Monologuist and Actor Was 62
By SHAILA K. DEWAN and JESSE McKINLEY
Published:March 09, 2004
A body that surfaced in theEast Riveron Sunday was identified by the city medical examiner yesterday as that of Spalding Gray, the confessional monologuist and actor who disappeared two months ago…
Another suicide by water. And another connection toSag Harbor. This time a man who had
been on the A-list.
By March of 2004, when Gray’s body was found, we had moved away fromNorth Haven, up
island (so called by East Enders), as my son started high school in late summer 2003. For us, the
Sag Harbormagic that justified the sacrifice of a daily six-hour commute to my job inManhattan
had worn off, painfully. And we wanted our kids to have educational opportunities that weren’t
easily accessible fromNorth Haven.
For years, the kids had taken music lessons at Andrew Baker’s Harbor Music Studio. So had
Gray’s son, Forrest. He played the drums.
We kept ourNorth Havenhouse through the summer of 2004 and then sold it to Jimmy
Buffett (another A-lister for sure). We were told he wanted it for some of his staff.
III Just before we moved, I ran into my friend in the 7-11 at the foot of the Sag Harbor-North Haven
bridge. He let me know that he and his family were sorry we were moving and that it was a
shame that jobs were not necessarily easy to find out east. He reminded me that he had been
lucky enough to have found a good job locally, in Riverhead. I reminded him that it was not just
the job thing. It was also the schools. He and I disagreed on the school situation. He thought the
local schools were okay. My wife and I felt otherwise.
I said good-bye to him, and he to me. I never saw him again.
My wife and I, and our kids, and my friend, his wife and their kids, were part of a small wave
of families who, in the early 90s, had chosen to make a go of living full-time inSag Harbor. It
was a cold and grey day inMashashimuetPark, probably in the late winter of 1995, when he
and I first met. He and his son were play-acting scenes from Jason and the Argonauts on and
around the slide. I was with my daughter, who was the same age as his son. They both were in
pre-school at Stella Maris.
Like me, my friend commuted for a time to and from his job inManhattan. Just to be able to
live inNorth Haven. We both had our stories about the Long Island Railroad and the Hampton
Jitney. We shared a loyalty to the New York Yankees, and dinners and barbeques and little