In an earlier incarnation, during that opulently sensory, promise-laden, unchained time between college graduation and reality, I imagined for myself a (modest) writer’s life. I foresaw the little country cottage on a lake with the snug writer’s study overlooking Elysian fields of humming-bird-filled wisteria and bougainvillea, dogs, cats, a horse (should I be so fortunate).
It never happened. Well, the cats happened, but not the rest.
I was writing an article back then about the history of the Long Island Railroad for a new magazine that came and went faster than a mayfly. In search of good historical photos, I found myself at the Bridgehampton home of writer/photographer and railroad maven Roz Ziel (known around town as “the choo-choo guy”). While combing through his archives, I mentioned that I needed a job. Ron was the VP at Dan’s Papers. He told me to call Dan.
Dan had a sports car of some sort. Wish I could remember what it was—good writing demands detail. A Triumph, maybe? An Alfa Romeo? Anyway, he was taking it to the garage for repairs and needed a lift back to the office. I had a somewhat more Spartan ride, a white Pinto wagon with the ersatz squire trim—that’s how long ago this was—with which I collected him at the garage. The interview took place on the road. By the time we pulled into the parking lot of 2221 Montauk Highway, I had a new job.
The chapter of my life in which I lived and worked in the Hamptons lasted only a year and change, but in my memory bank, it lives on undiminished and, in fact, accrues interest. Just this past year I started reading Dan’s Papers again. It takes me back, which is exactly what I want. I’m not interested in what or who is new on the Forks. I’m looking for what’s survived from my gilded days there and before; the essential, gentrified farmy, fishy, hand-crafty, historical East End. I see some familiar business names, including one or two that predate anybody currently alive, like Hildreth’s Department Store (1842—). Fairs and festivals of my day evidently still take place—minus (for the most part) the prairie skirts, love beads and bare feet. The windmills and lighthouses are apparently still standing. More importantly, I see that Dan’s Papers, itself, has stood the test of time, and evolved without sacrificing the simple charm that first won me over.
On the other hand, I saw in an April issue that the East End has lost one of its treasures—jazz musician Hal McKusick. I met him once while I lived out east. Twice, actually. I had a brilliant classical guitarist friend whose shoes were held together with duct tape. I asked Hal if I could bring my friend around to play for him, though to this day I have no idea what I thought might reasonably come of it. But he agreed to it, which was good enough for me. I came back with Patrick and, on that sunny October day, outside in the brick courtyard of Hal’s Sag Harbor house, where fresh salt air mingled with the melancholy scent of autumn decay, we and the birds and Hal’s pet squirrel heard one of Pat’s best performances. Gracious and warm to a fault, he gave Pat his most learned ear and advice and I’ve remembered him very fondly ever since.
As much water has flowed under the Ponquogue Bridge since those days, it really makes no sense that my heart sank a little when I read in Dan’s Papers that Dan’s Papers was abandoning the old house in Bridgehampton, next door (in my time, at least) to the little IGA market where we spent so much of our pocket change on those late nights when the wax machines rolled and we all—regardless of our daytime duties—worked paste-up until we were punch drunk and the new issues were boxed up for delivery to the printer.
Like Dan, writing about his failed commitment to clean out and throw out on the occasion of the big move, I can never discard anything that ever held value. So I still have, somewhere in my moldy box of paper keepsakes, Dan’s thank you note for the baby gift, and I remember the day that baby made his debut for the staff at the old house that was home to Dan’s Papers.
It was not in the least bad for business that the office was a homey place where you could kick off your shoes. It was wonderful. It made us a sort of family, and that’s why and how I remember everyone I worked with. Like Peggy Treffinger, a part-timer working her way through Southampton College. Nicest, cheeriest person ever to walk the earth. You couldn’t not be in a good mood around her. We went to see “Chariots of the Gods” together. Peggy died in a New Year’s Eve car crash in Water Mill the following year. Thank you for indulging me—just seemed like a good time to tell Peggy I’ve never forgotten her.
I haven’t seen that old house in years. It’s probably changed some. Surely the photostat machine, an antique even then, must be long gone—on cold winter mornings the first person in would turn on the camera to thaw frozen hands until the heat came up and the coffee was done. Footsteps thumped and scuffed on the worn oak floors, and the narrow old staircase creaked badly—you certainly couldn’t sneak up or down.
The floors and stairs have most likely seen some renovation since then. No doubt other facelifts have been perpetrated as well. They’d only have amounted to cosmetic changes, though. The same old heart would still be beating there at the house where Dan’s Papers grew up.
Maybe the new facilities in Southampton are very nice. Maybe I’ll go have a look some day. Maybe not.