Behind the Curtain: The Strange Reality of the Local
I wonder if it’s all an act. Watching people in “The Hamptons” as if they’re on a very long, expensive stage: lots of glamor, a little glitz, at least from what you can see from the street. I imagine the real glitz comes out at night to light up those post-production parties—equally as elaborate but not quite as public. I wonder who they think their audience is. To whom do they play? For whom. From my seat, it’s as if they are playing for each other. (Does that mean I get to be the critic!?) No of course not, I have my own part in this show, however minor it may be. But, as you must know, there are no small parts in theatre. While I may only be a waitress, only step on stage for a few scenes, and have very few lines, the others couldn’t wind that music box without my help. But the music for me doesn’t stop on Labor Day; it just changes tune.
Growing up out East was not something I really told people. If asked, I would say Long Island, then Eastern Long Island, closer to Montauk, and finally, with a little white flag waving in my hand, the Hamptons. I rarely specified East Hampton because the questions just got too ridiculous: Do you know P. Diddy? Where does he live? How many celebrities have you seen? Are they mean? Do they tip well? Of course there are celebrities out here, but they are still not as prevalent as those who think they themselves ought to be celebrities. And they certainly aren’t as loud. It is not the majority of people who have second homes out here but rather the seasonal renters—who are getting increasingly younger—who have egos in size directly proportional to the depths of their pockets, and then some. The point is really not about them, though. I mean, isn’t that a job they do quite well on their own—seize the spotlight? By continuing to bitch about the “summer people” we continue to give them center stage even in the wings. It is certainly not about having a pity party for the locals either. Despite what some may think, there is a great deal of agency in the local population: hence, no pity party necessary. The true tragedy is what the Hamptons have grown into around these egos and the current divides in the societies that dwell here…even if only for a few weeks.
It is not solely economics, experience, or education that drives summer and local peoples apart, or rather locals towards their summer neighbors’ throats. It is a difference in the way reality is perceived; one view from level ground, another from just below it. Personally, I never minded the disadvantaged view because it gives you tools you didn’t know you needed and didn’t know you were getting. When there are fewer options at your fingertips, the most important instrument you have is yourself. This deep sense of self-value, derived from a desolate place of self-reliance, is something more common than not in locals. While this sense is rooted in financial stress, it grows past a simple have-have not dynamic. And that point of self-reliance is sharpened each season when the flood gates open on July 4th and the race to make a year’s salary in 2 months begins. As it sharpens, it sinks deeper and gets to a place where self-value turns into egoism, to entitlement, to scoffing: to all the ugliness that locals see in summer people. For me, it got so sharp it drove me to hate this place and ultimately to move away from it. I became so disgusted with what East Hampton had become and the kind of unappreciative, murderous, snob that I was after doing a double at the restaurant. I suppose I’ll miss it eventually but right now I can’t even look back.
The most common questions I got were, “it’s so beautiful here, how could you leave,” “won’t you miss it,” “where would you go to find a place like this?” Something these inquirers did not understand, what most people wouldn’t understand, is that growing up in a resort area is not the same as vacationing in one. There is no sense of untouched natural beauty: all I see are the gargantuan houses being built atop the dunes I couldn’t play on as a kid. The only remaining sense of community I have is how mine is being boxed in by big money—into a space that, as small as it is, I will never be able to afford.
What do you do when you’ve grown up in one of the most beautiful places you could imagine? Where do you go from there? That is the million dollar question every local kid asks, always burdened with the disclaimer, “staying here is not an option.” Because, let’s face it, if the question is worth a million dollars, how much do you think the land it’s sitting on costs? The relationship between local and vacationer is only so much about the actual individuals, and has significantly more to do with the changing relationship between the local and his or her home. East Hampton has abandoned the local in favor of the more spendthrifty though seasonal foil. The entire main street of East Hampton is an ally of pop-up shops, closing every winter just as surely as they will re-open in time for the season.
To say the least, locals have a mixed relationship with this place, as I’m sure many people do with their hometowns. The only difference being most hometowns aren’t ranked among the top 10 best beaches of the world. And have not become an international symbol of wealth and high society—a thing I am grateful for as I never would have learned how to dress well so young without the influence Manhattan and its patrons. The point is that this town has become a playground for a particular clientele that is only doing business here a quarter of the year. That is why locals are misunderstood creatures who prefer to live under their humble rocks for that single quarter, or else bicker about how much they hate summer when only other locals are listening. They are the majority that is being ignored. I don’t think that happens in most other places. This article is really just an attempt to let you know that some people aren’t enjoying their day in the Hamptons as much as you are. And maybe to remind some to be mindful of that fact the next time someone asks you which wine you’ll be having this evening.