The Famous And The Forgotten

Written By: Thomas  Renker


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


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